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For Boston biotech building, signage and graphics create seamless experience (Dyer Brown)

For Boston biotech building, signage and graphics create seamless experience (Dyer Brown)

Signage and graphics are often an afterthought for commercial buildings, but for a new biotech building near the Boston Seaport, designs by Dyer Brown & Associates demonstrate how they can simultaneously enhance brand identities while creating a seamless user experience.

105 West First Street, originally designed to serve multiple life-science tenants, was leased in its entirety to leading gene editing company CRISPR Therapeutics. For developer Breakthrough Properties, capitalizing on this opportunity meant presenting the best, most consistent image for both CRISPR and for “The 105.”

Breakthrough turned to Dyer Brown & Associates, a national design firm known for expertise and thought leadership in commercial real estate. (Breakthrough’s parent company Tishman Speyer works frequently with the firm on strategies for keeping their office buildings leased up.) In this case, Dyer Brown proposed a package of environmental graphics, signage, and wayfinding elements to create a unified identity and experience, drawing inspiration from both the CRISPR brand and The 105’s architecture.

“We’ve developed a positive collaborative relationship with Breakthrough, supported by the fact that we have existing relationships with their project manager for The 105,” says Darrin Hunter, Assoc. AIA, senior design manager (digital, visual, and brand) for Dyer Brown. “With CRISPR participating in the process, we were given a larger than usual canvas to work on, so to speak.”

That “canvas” extends from signage for CRISPR at the top of the mid-rise building and over the entrance canopy, signifying their sole tenancy, to the large number 105 on a street-facing concrete knee wall, to wayfinding signage throughout common areas including the parking garage and basement level. 

Architecture-inspired signage

The resulting scheme presents an object lesson in scalable wayfinding, resolving and unifying various distances, scales and points of approach: employees and visitors first view The 105 from a distance, then the canopy followed by the address number beneath, then applied films with legally required information (e.g. “no smoking) on the glazed first-floor façade, and finally the human-scale wayfinding elements inside.

All of the original graphic elements by Dyer Brown draw inspiration from Payette’s architecture for the 105, especially the signature undulating vertical insets of glazed terra cotta panels adding a unique twist to the façade, subtly evocative of DNA strands.

Hunter’s wayfinding scheme includes echoes of those sculpted geometric forms, helping to solidify a brand identity for The 105 independent of (but in harmony with) CRISPR’s tenancy. That brand aesthetic is minimal, modernist, spare, and clean, right down to the emergency egress and ADA compliance signage – elements which many commercial owners consider standard and perfunctory – which Dyer Brown ensured would satisfy applicable codes and regulations.

“From a point of view that values seamless experience, it’s always best when the architecture itself suggests pathways and guides occupants,” says Hunter. “But signage and graphics can be that last touch, where the architect reaches out with information you need. Done well, it adds some flair and polish, making the user feel their needs have been anticipated while upholding the architectural concept.”

Hunter adds that his team benefited from great collaborative relationships with Payette (who also designed a great building to work with, he notes) and the reliably forward-thinking and creative executives at Breakthrough Properties and Tishman Speyer.