Dedication Lights Up the Skyline
The dedication of Berklee’s new tower at 160 Massachusetts Avenue on Wednesday, February 26, was anything but a standard ribbon-cutting ceremony. For students, the event was a unique interdisciplinary learning experience. For faculty, the dedication represented the dawn of new educational possibilities. For Berklee president Roger H. Brown, it was a deeply personal moment. For all involved, it was the start of something big.
Berklee’s new 16-story, state-of-the-art skyscraper offers housing for 370 students, 23 practice rooms, a fitness center, and 10 recording studios that Brown says “rival any in the United States.” (See more photos in Glimpsing Berklee's New Tower.)
Following a ribbon-cutting ceremony, Boston mayor Marty Walsh spoke of the building as a major boost to Boston’s artistic, cultural, and educational cachet.
“I see these amazing glass walls, and I know that you’re inviting the community to take part in what goes on here,” Walsh said.
For Brown, the building’s dedication carried a special significance because the opening occurred shortly after his father, Roger H. Brown Sr., passed away. The elder Brown was an engineer who reviewed all the blueprints and schematics for the new building. “He believed in infrastructure as a tool that unlocks human creativity and productivity,” Brown said. “So I think my dad would be very, very proud and happy if he could be with us here today.”
Student bands performed along with a dynamic light show on the new building, which drew stares from curious onlookers throughout the Back Bay. Students in the Berklee Interdisciplinary Arts Institute and their faculty director, Neil Leonard, had planned this facet of the dedication weeks in advance, working alongside veteran lighting designer John Powell.
A key breakthrough enabling the musicians to “play the building” came, thanks in large part to the work of student Dalton Harts and alumnus Jason Lim ’13. “We used the building’s Ethernet and UDP, which is an open sound control (OSC) format, with Raspberry Pi computers—one on each floor plugged directly into the Ethernet connection receiving OSC messages from anywhere in the building connected to the same network,” Lim says. “Then each of those computers was converting the OSC data to MIDI, and the MIDI was converted to a DMX lighting protocol via a microcontroller converter.”
If that sounds complicated, it is, says Powell, the lighting expert. But he adds that it worked thanks to Lim, Harts, and other Berklee Electronic Production and Design students who were “incredibly open and seriously technically savvy.”
The band Isis Lune (led by student Ella Joy Meir) began the musical portion of the program with the original song “Bring Me the Moon,” as synced multicolored lights shimmered and darted across the building to suggest a moonrise. Meir says she chose that song because it is “about daring to think big and to believe in magic.”
“I feel like that’s what this building is about,” she says. “It’s Roger Brown’s big dream, and we all get to enjoy it now.”