Last week, we said an emotional goodbye to District Hall’s fearless and incredible leader, Nicole Fichera. She’s off to join the innovation team down the street at Autodesk. Hear from her a bit more about what makes District Hall so special, and what’s she’s up to next!
Today is my last day as General Manager of District Hall.
It’s a weird feeling.
I’m excited to share what is coming next, but first I want to remember some of the amazing things that have happened since I started working on this special little building.Six short years ago, District Hall was just an idea. The Mayor and his team envisioned a gathering place for the newly minted Innovation District–an “innovation center”, but with a civic vibe, a place where innovators could come together and connect. I was working in design, at Hacin + Associates, and we collaborated with the City of Boston, Boston Global Investors, CIC and the fledgling Venture Cafe Foundation to make this idea make sense.
And I fell in love with it. The vision was not about technology–it was about people: an open door, coffee and food, a community that wants your ideas to grow and wants to help you get there. We had to design it, but first we had to figure out what the heck it was. We pulled images of open street markets, cool hotel lobbies, flexible offices, high-impact venues and even subway stations–spaces where strangers might meet for the first time, where entrepreneurs worked casually, or where communities gathered to celebrate. This was not like any other design project I had worked on: it was new and kind of persnickety, challenging and deeply worthwhile.
I remember sitting in meetings talking with the team about what might happen here, about the ways that artists and technologists and scientists and investors and community leaders could all share this funny little space together. I remember thinking to myself: “What if I could run this place?”
Over the next six years, it actually happened. We finished the construction documents and the project got underway. I joined the Mayor’s team at City Hall as the Innovation District Manager, and stayed close to the project as it was built. And for three years after that, I have had some of the greatest joys and challenges of my professional life as General Manager of District Hall, working for the Venture Cafe Foundation to launch and activate the space.
We’ve hosted more than 2000 events and meetings since we opened, from free office hours for startups to fundraising galas for cancer research, from coding workshops for kids to celebrations of musical and artistic innovation. We’ve given away $2M dollars worth of event space for free, removing financial barriers for events that are run by startups and nonprofits, that are mission-driven, free and open to the public. We’ve hosted White House officials, Governors, Ambassadors, international delegations, visiting researchers and graduate students, thinkers from all over the world looking to Boston for ideas on how to make innovation happen in their cities.
I’ll miss arriving every day and walking into something totally different: a quiet workspace full of headphone-wearing entrepreneurs one day, and a buzzing event space full of conversation and brainstorming the next. I’ll miss getting coffee every day at Brew. I’ll miss the people most of all. When you’re brainstorming all over the walls and laughing your butt off with a bunch of lovable weirdos, it doesn’t really feel like work.
The good thing is–I’m not going far, both in geography and concept.
I’m thrilled to announce that I’ll be joining to join the innovation team at Autodesk. There are a lot of reasons I’m excited about this move (ahem, robots), but the main one is that it’s an extraordinary opportunity to continue my work at the intersection of the innovation economy and the built environment.
You might have heard about their new BUILD space in the Drydock area, in the Innovation and Design Building–it’s essentially a 35000 SF mega workshop meant to be the home of innovation in the building industry. Image below, and more info on their Facebook page. I’m so excited to be a part of the team that is launching this extraordinary project. Among other things, I’ll be looking for startups, firms and research teams changing the way that buildings and cities get made, so that they can leverage this amazing resource to move their projects forward. This program is in its early stages, so look for more updates and ways to connect once I’m more fully immersed.
This move puts me firmly at the intersection of design, innovation and the built environment, and I’m happy to be there. My core belief in architecture and urbanism has always been that spaces are for people; buildings are for people; cities are for people. Not for cars, or for businesses, or for certain exciting new sectors, or for innovation–for people. And I believe firmly that our environment affects our ability to connect, to produce, to create, to grow. When we design and build better places, it helps us to amplify our human and economic potential.
I have a new job, but the same mission: making better places that make us better people. Looking forward to everything this new chapter brings.