Ensuring that Boston gems are hidden no longer

The Boston Harbor Islands might be one of the city’s best-kept secrets. But that has started to change, thanks to a Northeastern University architecture professor, whose design of a new pavilion on the Rose Kennedy Greenway has begun drawing Bostonians and flocks of tourists to the 34-island national park.

Tim Love, an associate professor in the School of Architecture and the founding principal at Boston firm Utile, led the design of the new structure, which opened this year to acclaim and has already led to an uptick in visitors to the Harbor Islands.

“Everybody agreed that the Boston Harbor Islands are an incredible resource, but very few Bostonians or tourists know that they’re only a 15-minute boat ride away,” Love said.

The pavilion, the first permanent structure built on the Greenway in downtown Boston, features interactive displays, maps and knowledgeable park rangers. From there, visitors can purchase tickets to Spectacle and Georges islands, which serve as hubs to other destinations in the Boston Harbor Islands and are only about a 20-minute ferry ride from Long Wharf.

The pavilion, a good example of public architecture, Love said, serves as a nexus to connect visitors to places such as Christopher Columbus Park, Quincy Market and the North End.

Love called the pavilion a “dream project” that aligns with the architecture school’s mission. “We believe in our department that teaching design starts with a conception of the culture of a city as a cultural question and an anthropological question, and that’s why this project is so close to what I do in the classroom,” he said.

In 2009, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano lobbied for a $5 million federal appropriation to finance construction of the pavilion, which opened on Memorial Day weekend.

From the project’s inception, designers spent a great deal of time exploring and rediscovering the Boston Harbor Islands from the perspective of a first-time visitor.

“The design team that worked to put that pavilion together didn’t start with a sketch of a building,” said Bruce Jacobson, superintendent of the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area. “In this case, they went out on a boat and visited the islands.”

The pavilion was intended to eliminate the “out of sight, out of mind” problem facing the islands, said Tom Powers, president of the Boston Harbor Island Alliance.

“The number of people who are going out and visiting the islands is steadily increasing every year, but we’ve long known that you really need a landside gateway to get people to know what’s out there,” he said.