Behind the Design of View Boston, the New Observatory and Experiential Attraction Atop the Prudential Tower

Photography by Reed McKendree and Chuck Choi

The iconic local landmark recently underwent renovations, allowing the building to open its doors for everyone to ‘View Boston.’

Bostonians and tourists are now able to enjoy the long-awaited opening of a new interactive observatory experience at the top of the Prudential Tower, now known as “View Boston,” which opened to the public on June 15th. Developed by BXP and designed by the Boston studio of Perkins&Will, View Boston encompasses three floors of interior and exterior observation decks, hospitality venues, and interactive exhibits offering a bird’s-eye view of the city. From its location atop the 750-foot-tall Prudential Tower in Back Bay, the new observatory serves as a civic and commercial point of convergence for visitors and residents alike to encounter the city of Boston, the local region, and its iconic landmark building from a new perspective.

“BXP, the building owner, sought to create a space for all to experience the city in a new and unique way. Through innovative architectural upgrades and a re-thinking of underutilized spaces, our Perkins&Will and collaborating team, alongside BXP, reimagined the potential of the Prudential Tower with a design that facilitates observation, discovery, and connection,” states Derek Johnson, Perkins&Will Associate Principal and Project Manager of View Boston.

Design That Serves the View

As the name suggests, the main attraction of View Boston is the unmatched panorama of the city and surrounding region. The guest experience is designed as an episodic journey, beginning with a new entrance located within the Prudential Center. Visitors descend into the queueing area, the lights dim, and the spaces compress in anticipation of the ride to the top of the tower.

Arriving at the 52nd floor – named The View – this experience is reversed as visitors step into the light, and the space expands to a panoramic view of the city unfolding below, seen through the letters of the iconic Prudential sign. To create this heroic moment, the Perkins&Will team reconfigured the tower’s mechanical system and removed numerous suspended ceilings, walkways, and the solid panel behind the Prudential sign. These upgrades raised the ceiling from nine feet to a soaring 24 feet, creating a light-filled volume for the interior wraparound observatory.

A common, continuous thread of materials and details winds through the observation, exhibit, and hospitality space, creating a unifying framework of intuitive wayfinding. The simplicity and minimalism of the design are articulated through a series of portals—thoughtful placement of windows and doorways that consistently direct attention out to the views—and a quiet materiality that uses reflectivity and subtle textural cues to guide guests from one episodic experience to the next. An interior and exterior lighting program, designed in collaboration with LAM Partners, creates ambience at all times of day and night, perfectly calibrated to highlight the views and design features of the space.

“You have specific moments of interest occur along the visitors’ journey: seeing the city through the iconic Prudential letters, stepping up to the edge of the outdoor roof deck overlooking Back Bay, the indoor-outdoor bar, the restaurant, and the many interactive exhibits. Part of our task as designers was to string these experiences together with transitions that make them distinct from one another,” says architect Matt Pierce, a principal at Perkins&Will who led the design of View Boston. “There are moments of serenity and quiet spaces that allow you to pause between the wide range of exhibits; interludes that take you away from the view and then reintroduce it to create opportunities of dramatic effects. The architecture is meant to support intuitive wayfinding so that you’re not reliant on signs and graphics. The spaces should guide you through the journey.”

Historical Context, Challenges & Solutions

Originally designed by Charles Luckman & Associates from Los Angeles and opened in 1965, the Prudential Tower remains an exemplar of mid-century modern architecture in Boston and is an indelible fixture in the city skyline. Challenges inherent from the outset of the project involved working within the aging systems of a fully operational, historic office building.

Ultimately, an upgrade to the tower’s original mechanical systems opened the door for BXP and the design teams to reimagine the observatory experience, while elevating the infrastructure to current sustainable, energy efficient standards. Updated cooling systems freed up interior space to house the window washing unit, allowing for the Cloud Terrace, an all-season exterior observation deck and hospitality area on the 51st floor, to take shape where there had been only mechanical systems. A new eight-foot-high frameless glass windscreen was installed to make the outdoor roof deck comfortable and safe while offering the best viewing experience in the city.

The historical context of working within an important mid-century modern tower inspired a range of design decisions as well, from the furniture chosen in the dining and lounge areas to the proportions of interior partitions, windows, and portals. Where possible, materials were chosen sustainably and locally to celebrate Boston’s history: the flooring used in the Stratus cocktail bar on the 51st floor uses salvaged “Harbor Oak” made from the piers that formerly supported Jimmy’s Harborside Restaurant.

Materials Study: Reflectivity & Transparency

Within the hospitality spaces, Stratus bar and The Beacon bistro, Perkins&Will employed design strategies that direct attention outwards towards the view. Materially, there is an emphasis on glass, both mirrored and transparent. The décor in Stratus references the elements of air and water, transporting guests to a space in the clouds with a vaporous and fluid aesthetic. The protected interior space flows seamlessly to the exterior seating area and observation deck through movable glass walls that can open or close to suit the weather. Additional noteworthy design features include an edge-lit cast glass bar, created by Lucid Glass Studio and a lighting installation by Yellow Goat Design, featuring a reflective metallic canopy of varying heights that in the evening mimics stars in the night sky.

Downstairs in The Beacon, the bar faces outwards and is flanked by mirrored columns with custom shelving, creating a sparkling reflection of the city below. Working within the existing structure limited the ceiling height in the dining area. A high-gloss panel system was designed for this ceiling to reflect light and add a feeling of openness to an otherwise compressed space. Both venues’ floorplans allow for uninterrupted viewing, providing clear sightlines to windows and portals, as in the case of an open partition that mimics the prudential façade, behind the host stand in the Beacon. Through an artful application of transparent and reflective materials, the view is ever-present throughout the entire guest experience.

Accessibility & Inclusivity

Perkins&Will and BXP worked diligently to ensure that the public spaces are intentionally designed for guests of all abilities and mobilities, creating an equitable experience for all. Throughout the three stories of attractions, equity is realized through tactile models of the skyline for guests with vision impairments, native audio systems for hearing support, quiet moments of rest away from the stimulating activity areas, and restaurant and bar seating tailored for easy wheelchair access.

Collaboration between the exhibition design and operations partners proved crucial to achieving the inclusivity goals of the project. Programming in the exhibition spaces was helmed by JRA, an immersive technology design agency, in coordination with Perkins&Will and BXP. The episodic guest journey features multiple touchpoints for education and storytelling: Boston 365, a 3D model of the city of Boston with rotating seasonal display content; Virtual Viewers and interactive itinerary-planning touchscreens highlighting various cultural and historical landmarks, which can all be captured on your phone and form the “ViewPrint” travel guide to your stay in the region; and finally, the Immersive Theater, a 260-degree theater showcasing the “Open Doors” film that highlights a variety of neighborhoods and attractions all approach the city as a rich fabric of diversity to explore and celebrate.

Serving as both an arrival and a point of departure, View Boston is a one-of-a-kind experience that offers a new perspective on the city and the surrounding region: an essential first stop for visitors and a place residents will return to again and again.

Project Details:

Project Name: View Boston

Architect: Perkins&Will

Client: Boston Properties

Location: Boston, Massachusetts

Photography: Reed McKendree and Chuck Choi