Building Boston: A Chat with Ashley Dunn of Dyer Brown

She helms the firm's hospitality, retail, and workplace studios.

Welcome to Building Boston, where we chat with local developers, builders, architects, and change-makers about our city.

Photo courtesy of Dyer Brown

Meet Ashley Dunn. She’s director of workplace for Dyer Brown, a Boston-based architectural firm that specializes in renovating office and retail spaces. She also teaches at the BAC.

My favorite building in Boston’s skyline is…the Federal Reserve Bank tower. It just amazed me the first time I visited Boston while in architecture school. We got off at South Station and boom—that was the first building we saw. It felt so modern and heroic. Every time I walk by that building it takes me back to those days. Hats off to Hugh Stubbins, Jr., the architect.

If there is one thing I could change about Boston, it would be…well, other than the weather, we need to invest in connected public spaces, and not the ones where you need to buy a ticket or something to use them. I’d like to see more European-style plazas connecting museums and civic buildings, or something like wrapping the Charles River Esplanade across the entire harborfront to the Seaport, so people can walk, draw, play Frisbee or take a yoga class. I love spaces like Lawn on D at the convention center, where you can do whatever you want. But only recently has its future become more certain, and often the forces that be are resistant to investing in these spaces. I get that City Hall Plaza was a bust, but let’s not give up on open public spaces because of one (very large) misstep!

I’m working on…so many things—it ranges a lot, from new studios and performance space for iHeartRadio in Medford to a huge new workplace in downtown Dallas. Among my favorites is the lobby renovation we’re designing for a notable boutique Boston building, One Bowdoin Square, a real postmodern icon by Graham Gund. Also, we just completed BostonIVF’s first clinic downtown, helping them reinvent the experience to be more comforting and relaxing, almost like a spa environment.

In 15 years, I hope Boston will…be enjoying its continued investment in convenient transit options as well as its preparation for climate change. Most of all, I hope Boston will maintain its wonderful mix of historic and modern buildings that draw visitors and new residents and businesses from all around the world. I’ve done work all around the country and that eclectic mix of very old and very new is unique to our city.

To help make Boston’s building industry more diverse, I’m…leading our firm in continuing to hire and mentor more women designers and architects, expanding opportunities in a field still dominated by men. Since women are underrepresented in all STEM fields, including architecture, Dyer Brown is helping them to get licensed, through encouragement and practical experience, to propel their careers—and our industry—forward.

Honestly, I hate it when…people kind of assume architects do only one thing. But our work is so varied and fun. We engage people and communities, working with them to solve so many common problems. Everything you touch is considered by architects, and so are many issues that shape our day-to-day living and working spaces. We help businesses save money, help restaurants and hotels create cozy and inviting experiences, and we even help nonprofits grow. It’s very satisfying work, and nothing like the clichés we see in movies. (Other than a preference for using too many big words for no reason. That part is embarrassingly real!)

My students at Boston Architectural College are…totally awesome! More importantly, they are incredibly diverse. As graduate students, they come from around the world and from varied backgrounds including psychology and economics and fashion design. It’s natural to become cynical after working in the real world for a number of years, but seeing their enthusiasm to learn new skills is so inspiring. It carries back to my work, every day.

The top-floor terrace at 116 Huntington Avenue, recently renovated by Dyer Brown / Photo by Chuck Choi, courtesy Dyer Brown