Pando

With a new experimental space in Boston, Autodesk wants to bring manufacturing back to cities

By Dennis Keohane , written on March 30, 2015

From The News Desk

Global computer design company Autodesk has unveiled today the location for the East Coast version of its Pier 9 facility, an experimental maker space geared towards the creative class. The new space, located in the Marine Industrial Park in the Drydock area of South Boston, will have a much different focus than its Bay Area predecessor, focusing specifically on construction design as well as innovation in fabrication processes and manufacturing materials.

The company is hoping that the new downtown Boston offices will both attract more of the engineering talent coming out of MIT, Harvard, and other local schools, and also serve as a way to showcase Autodesk to an innovation community that is increasingly trying to bring manufacturing and hardware processes back into an urban setting. The new facility will be housed in a building next door to MassChallenge, which just opened its own prototyping and maker space in the Drydock area, and is a few blocks away from Bolt, a hardware-startup incubator and investor.

“What we are trying to do is to help our customers realize the future of making things,” said Amar Hanspal, the senior vice president of Autodesk’s information modeling and platform group.

Like Pier 9, the Boston Autodesk facility will be open to innovators. Whereas the San Francisco building hosts an artists-in-residence program, the East Coast space will have architects-in-residence and researchers-in-residence. While much of Autodesk’s construction-focused software business already operates out of its New England offices, the company is planning on its new Boston office becoming an international hub for the company and a place where it can develop new smart building technologies and experiment with construction processes and materials.

In addition to having a place to innovate in the city, Autodesk wants to create the same brand value that it has with the downtown Pier 9 facility, which the company said has had more than 10,000 visitors since opening. “With Pier 9, we learned how to engage the community, and in Boston, there is such a vibrant educational community, that we want to include them in our use of the build space,” said Hanspal.

Autodesk already has two major operations in New England, one in a recently constructed building along Route 128 in Waltham, the other in Manchester, New Hampshire. All of the employees from the Waltham office will be migrating to the new Boston space once it opens in the fall; at some point, Autodesk plans to move some of its Manchester team to its new facility as well.

Autodesk’s departure from the suburbs is bad news for the Route 128 area, known during the 1980's and 1990's as the Silicon Highway.  Once the home of not only some of the first and most prolific venture capital firms, like Greylock, Highland Capital, Charles River Ventures, and others, it was also where many early tech innovators like Wang Laboratories and Digital housed their headquarters. Autodesk departing a building it only built a few years ago is part of a recent down trend for the Boston suburbs, with companies like Acquia and Kayak also leaving for new offices in Cambridge and Boston.

And yet, from Massachusetts to the Bay Area, industry follows the talent -- and increasingly that means maintaining a foothold in urban centers.

[photo by darkday]