Posts tagged with "Boston":

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How will Boston handle its largest wave of development to date?

In Boston, a booming job market is drawing people back from far-flung suburbs and remaking the region, but it is also exacerbating a housing-affordability crisis and forcing difficult conversations about the future of the city. Greater Boston is riding a wave of development that is perhaps the largest the region has ever seen. By 2030, the city of Boston projects its population will top 700,000, a number it has not seen in 60 years. “The vast majority of our growth is happening in the inner core of the Boston region, so within the city of Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Everett, Quincy, and in some of the other municipalities within the Route 128 corridor,” said Eric Bourassa, director of the transportation division at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC). “This is a trend we’ve been seeing over the past decade, and we’re just predicting more of this growth.” The MAPC is in the process of updating the 30-year plan it released in 2008, highlighting housing, sustainability, and transportation. Another regional planning group, the Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization, is updating its periodic long-range regional transportation plan. But change is happening quicker than the region’s existing plans can reflect. Data from the MAPC shows the region added more than 225,000 jobs between 2009 and 2015, and nearly two-thirds of them were in those inner-core cities. In July, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Boston’s non-farm employment rose 2.1 percent compared to the previous year, outpacing the national rate of 1.5 percent. The engines of that growth are Greater Boston’s dozens of colleges and universities, and the biotech industry that grew out of them in the 1970s. Biotech turned Cambridge’s Kendall Square from an undeveloped urban frontier into a regional hub home to the highest concentration of biotech companies in the world, but many migrated to the area around Route 128 during the 1980s and ’90s to build suburban campuses. Today some of the same genetic engineering startups that began that transformation, like Biogen, are reinvesting in Boston and Cambridge. That trend is likely to continue. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker recently announced his plans to put another $500 million into the life-sciences industry over the next five years. In addition to Kendall Square, the South Boston Waterfront—better known as the Seaport—has gathered a growing share of those new jobs in a growing portfolio of pricey office developments and luxury condos. Many suburbs are also becoming more dense. Needham, Natick, and Framingham are among the further-out cities developing around commuter rail stations in their downtowns. Two areas of Somerville are undergoing massive redevelopments tied to public transit, as well: Assembly Square, which recently landed the new offices of the state’s largest private employer, Partners Healthcare; and Union Square, which is preparing for major changes ahead of getting the first new MBTA train stop in decades. Matthew Littell is principal of the Boston design firm Utile, which is working on the Cambridge Master Plan, and was a lead consultant on Imagine Boston 2030, Boston’s first citywide plan in 50 years. His firm analyzed demographic patterns in the region and found that younger employees in industries like tech tended to cluster around the inner-core cities and neighborhoods where they worked, compared to Boston’s bankers and lawyers, who still generally preferred houses in the suburbs. Littell pointed to Autodesk’s decision to supplement its office space in the suburban Route 128 corridor with a new space in the Seaport. “That’s a classic example, and the only reason these companies are moving is to attract and retain talent,” he said. “The young, smart folks don’t want to be out in Framingham or Waltham. They want to be in downtown Boston or Kendall Square or somewhere like that.” MAPC socioeconomic analyst Sarah Philbrick agreed that young people are flocking to the inner-core cities in search of walkable neighborhoods and city life, and businesses are following them. “Businesses want to attract these workers and therefore decide to locate in highly desirable locations,” Philbrick said. “I don’t believe many businesses would pay the high rents of the core if this were not the case.” Real estate is booming along with the regional job market, but housing is coming up short, and local business leaders worry that could hobble their ability to attract top talent. Finding enough skilled employees is already an issue in a state with one of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates—soaring housing costs could drive away would-be residents. “We just we don’t have enough housing to meet the demand,” said Bourassa, “and so we lose a lot of young professionals who can’t afford to live here.” The MAPC estimates only about two-thirds of the region’s housing needs are being met. Some worry that could lead to long-term stagnation or brain drain away from Greater Boston. “I have a real question about how sustainable this rental housing boom is actually going to be in the long term,” said David Hacin, principal of Hacin + Associates. “There’s a lot of pent-up demand here, but it’s hard to build in the Boston area. It’s a very expensive market from a construction cost point of view, and when you combine years-long review processes with limited site opportunities because it’s a mature market, you run into problems of affordability.” The City of Boston said it’s trying to address that problem. Mayor Marty Walsh has pledged 53,000 new housing units as part of a new housing plan—a sizable effort that may have contributed to median rent in the inner-core cities dropping for the first time since at least 2009. Still, Barry Bluestone, professor of political economy at Northeastern University and lead author of the Boston Foundation’s Housing Report Card, estimates the region needs around 160,000 new housing units by 2030. So far statistics show that efforts to ease the housing crunch are having mixed results. The pace of new housing construction in the same inner-core cities seeing the most population growth has slowed lately, according to the Foundation’s report card, published in November. In its report, the Boston Foundation found that the City of Boston has issued more than 41 percent of the new housing permits in the region this year, almost double its share five years ago. But fewer than one in five new units put on the market since 2011 were affordable, less than half the rate seen between 1996 and 2003. Meanwhile, the number of permits issued outside the city of Boston declined this year, while more than half of renters reported paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing, according to the report. The region’s recent growth spurt may be making that problem more severe, but it should not come as a surprise, said Michael Goodman, executive director of the Public Policy Center at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. “Population growth is contributing to some of the congestion and growth pressure being experienced in Greater Boston,” said Goodman. “But our transportation and housing issues are primarily the result of inadequate infrastructure investment and counterproductive zoning regulations which limit new housing development.” With more people and corporations calling Boston home, housing advocates are calling on local governments to direct the benefits of a growing tax base into more affordable housing initiatives. “Even in Boston, there continues to be a challenge of creating a housing stock that benefits working households along with everyone else who strives to live in the city,” said Barry Bluestone, lead author of the Boston Foundation’s housing report, in a statement. He recommends the creation of “21st-century villages,” defined as multistory mixed-income buildings located near public transit. In an interview, Bluestone expanded on that idea. Many communities around Boston currently prohibit accessory dwelling units and, in some cases, ban multifamily housing outright, he said. “In the past, everyone has acknowledged there’s a housing problem, but they’ve mostly looked to their neighbors to solve it,” said Bluestone. Now that the whole region’s housing market is feeling the squeeze, however, more local governments are starting to take note. On December 5, municipal leaders from 14 cities and towns in the Boston area came together to identify a regional housing goal and recommend zoning changes to help them get there. “I’ve been looking at housing for two decades, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen this kind of coordination,” said Bluestone.
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Boston’s Fenway Center will break ground after 15 years of delays

A massive, 1.1-million-square-foot development adjacent to Fenway Park in Boston is finally set to rise, following 15 years of delays, setbacks, and logistical issues. The first phase of Fenway Center will bring two residential buildings with 312 units, 37,000 square feet of ground floor retail and 200 underground parking spots to what is currently a parking lot, at a price tag of $240 million. Fenway Center has been plagued by false starts for years (AN last wrote that it might break ground in 2013), but construction on the mixed-use development is now supposed to begin in the next two weeks and wrap up by 2020. One of the most difficult hurdles that the project has had to clear, other than financing, is that phase one would have originally placed the residential towers over the Massachusetts Turnpike, with phase two building on the parking lot. Spanning a deck over the turnpike made the project prohibitively expensive and complicated, and as the site is state-owned, Massachusetts’s officials required developer John Rosenthal to have both the funding and deck plans in place before they would sign a lease. These problems seem to have been resolved by Rosenthal rearranging the project’s timeline, as Rosenthal hopes the new towers will build anticipation, and funding, for decking over the turnpike. “We’re going to create a neighborhood here where today there are parking lots and windswept bridges,” Rosenthal told The Boston Globe. “That will attract the debt and equity for Phase 2.” With the residential towers going up on the nearby lot instead, phase two will now see an office tower and garages being built over the turnpike. With a 99-year lease in place between Rosenthal and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, construction on the project is poised to begin immediately. The scheme will build off of an earlier master plan by New York-based Carlos Zapata Studio, and Chelsea, Massachusetts-based The Architectural Team (TAT) will be designing the buildings, as well as the site’s elevated pedestrian walkways and new green spaces. TAT has also promised that Fenway Center will feature one of the largest private solar power plants in the state, and the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority’s first net-zero-energy train station. Repurposing the unused land around sports venues has become increasingly popular, as the ballpark-adjacent Fenway Center will join the likes of Denver's new stadium district and the office complexes bordering Wrigley Field. Phase one of Fenway Center is expected to finish construction by 2020, and the developers are required to finalize their lease with the MassDOT for the second phase by the same year.
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2017 Best of Design Awards for Retail – Interior

2017 Best of Design Awards Retail – Interior: Health Yoga Life Architect:  BOS|UA Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts The yoga studio is located in the ground floor of the Novartis Building in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The new 1,500-square-foot commercial space has great street presence, providing the opportunity to showcase the values of the studio and the brand to a larger audience—namely, that yoga is the practice of connecting to oneself and others. The key elements that make Health Yoga Life stand out are the mentoring and learning functions of the business. The architecture firm decided to translate these three main aspects—community, coaching, and practice—into defined spatial experiences: shop, forum, and studio. Public programs, such as the forum and the shop, act as magnets to the street, while the studio focuses on the interiority of yoga. “It’s inviting, flexible, and straightforward — a nice, fluid transition of spaces that all seem restful even though exposed at street level.” —Irene Sunwoo, Director of Exhibitions, GSAPP (juror) Contractor:  Atlantic Management Group Millwork:   Bill Bancroft Furniture: BOS|UA  
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2017 Best of Design Awards for Civic – Administrative

2017 Best of Design Award for Civic – Administrative: Boston Emergency Medical Services Architect: The Galante Architecture Studio Location: Boston, Massachusets This new Emergency Medical Services facility replaced a dilapidated garage located on the historic grounds of the old Boston Sanatorium. Working in concert with the City of Boston Public Facilities department, the firm built a modest yet elegant building that provides security and stature through its solid shell and minimalist form. The approximately 10,500-square-foot structure comprises 11 bays—each capable of double loading and outfitted with a vehicle exhaust system—to house emergency vehicles already in Boston EMS’s fleet, plus additional equipment provided by Homeland Security in the wake of the 2013 Boston Marathon attack. A robust thermal envelope, efficient LED lights and daylighting units, and low-flow plumbing fixtures help make the building energy efficient. Its inherent flexibility supports Boston’s first responders in their efforts to protect the public and manage emergencies in both the short term and foreseeable future. "This project is a wonderful use of quotidian materials in a sharp, sophisticated way. Robert Venturi would be proud." —Matt Shaw, senior editor, The Architect's Newspaper (juror) Contractor: Gianluca Morle, WCI Corporation Project director: Scott Dupre with Boston Public Facilities Department Metal Wall Panels: Morin Daylighting Units: Firestone Building Products Site Lighting: RAB Lighting Honorable Mention New United States Courthouse – Los Angeles Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill Location: Los Angeles, California Modern in spirit and rooted in classic principles of federal architecture, the New United States Courthouse contains 24 courtrooms and 32 judicial chambers within 633,000 (energy efficient) square feet. Envisioned as a “floating” cube, the building’s innovative structural engineering concept elevates the glass volume above its stone base, mitigating blast threats while appearing as a single hovering form. Honorable Mention San Diego Central Courthouse Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill Location: San Diego, California This project consolidates San Diego County’s Criminal Trial, Family, and Civil Courts into a 22-story, 704,000-square-foot tower in the city’s downtown—a catalyst for the emerging government district. A three-story public lobby serves as the heart of the courthouse, while the traditional courthouse pediment has been reinterpreted as a shade-giving soffit.
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The co-living, micro-unit trend expands to Boston in a big way

With housing prices soaring and available stock dwindling in cities across the country, the micro-unit apartment trend has spread to Boston for the first time. National Development and New York-based Ollie have teamed up to bring a 14-story co-living micro-unit apartment building to Boston’s South End. Ollie is no stranger to the micro-unit game, and its modular, nARCHITECTS-designed Carmel Place drew media attention after being built offsite and assembled in only a month. With units ranging from 260 to 360 square feet but market-rate prices, Ollie included concierge service and a suite of luxury amenities in an attempt to lure in tenants, a model it will attempt to replicate in Boston. Planned for the Ink Block complex in the South End, the Elkus Manfredi Architects-designed, 245-unit building will follow the co-living model, offering fully furnished apartments, free housecleaning services, and communal events that are meant to make the transition to co-living as clean as possible. With many of the units under 400 square feet, Ollie is trying to win over young professionals who either won’t be home that often, or won’t mind the lack of space. “You walk into this building and you feel like you’re in a millennial resort,” National Development managing partner Ted Tye told the Boston Globe. “It’s kind of like a grown-up college experience.” Combining the micro-unit and co-living models seems like a natural progression, as developers can trade unit square footage for the added experience that tenants receive. While the still-unnamed development isn’t the first micro-unit building in Boston, it is one of the first to bank on the idea that residents would willingly pay more for added services. The co-living model is catching on across the country, and Ollie has similar buildings in New York City and Pittsburgh, with others currently under construction in Jersey City and Los Angeles. WeWork’s WeLive buildings have also sprung up in New York and Washington, D.C., although their leases are typically short-term. The dorm-style communal living arrangement, complemented by access to WeWork office space in the same building, has been met with mixed reviews so far. Micro-unit arrangements have not arisen without their share of criticism, either. Still, Ollie feels that the demand for shared living spaces is particularly high in Boston. The Ink Block co-living building will still need approval from the Boston Planning and Development Agency before it can proceed. More detailed plans will be coming in the next month, and construction should begin sometime in 2018.
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Boston-area smart city aims at city’s booming tech sector

While tech giant Alphabet recently announced it would develop 12 acres of Toronto waterfront into a smart-city-technology testing ground, a similar undertaking has already begun 12 miles south of Boston. Developer LStar Ventures has big plans to turn this 1,500-acre site, dubbed Union Point (formerly South Weymouth Naval Air Station), into a “smart” development that will specially cater to technology companies. On the surface, the project is an eco-friendly exurban development with a leafy, bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly mixed-use master plan. In addition to offering housing, retail, residences, restaurants, three million square feet of office space, and eight million square feet of commercial development, Union Point would connect to Boston—and its booming tech industry scene—via a nearby MBTA commuter rail. Boston-based Elkus Manfredi and Watertown, Massachusetts–based Sasaki are master planning Union Point and working with engineering firms such as Arup, Vanderweil Engineers, and VHB on a range of sustainable features, including natural, on-site wastewater treatment systems. However, where Union Point really sets itself apart is in its information technology infrastructure. The city will lay the foundations for its tenants to use its streets and buildings as testing grounds for smart city technology. In addition to omnipresent wi-fi, “Union Point will have a site-wide fiber-optic cabling system to support commercial tenants, building assets, and IoT [Internet of Things] systems,” said David Wilts, associate principal and digital master planning leader at Arup. In other words, companies will be able to install sensors to collect data on air quality and building performance, and even be able to set up public digital signage. In this way, Union Point could easily support smart city ventures similar to Chicago’s Array of Things sensor network or New York City’s LinkNYC towers. The first stage of development is a $25 million sports complex designed by Elkus Manfredi and Sasaki that will feature multiple fields, including a rugby pitch, playground, park, restaurant, and renovated gymnasium. Including this complex was crucial in the two-year process of getting local communities on board with the development; its fields will be available to the three nearby towns at reduced leasing rates. Technology, however, is a notoriously fickle thing to design into a project. For example, the video-call screens installed in Korea’s smart city mega-development Songdo are already obsolete. But Union Point hopes to avoid that by only laying the groundwork for its tenants. “LStar Ventures aspires to be the leader in the practical application of technology that we know, that we can imagine, and that is beyond today’s imagination,” said David Manfredi, founding principal at Elkus Manfredi. “That is why the armature that we create must be flexible, durable, and adaptable over time.” The Boston-area is no stranger to smart city developments, as the 45-acre Cambridge Crossing tech hub was also unveiled this year.
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One of Boston’s biggest developments will bring a tech hub to the city’s “last frontier”

Cambridge Crossing, a 45-acre development at the nexus of Cambridge, Boston, and Somerville, will provide another hub of tech and life sciences to the greater Boston area. The San Francisco-based developer, Divco West, has already begun construction on two structures within the complex as of this week, including a 430,000-square-foot office building intended to house science and tech groups. CBT Architects are the designers behind the master plan. Previously dubbed NorthPoint, the mega-development will include 4.5 million square feet of mixed-used space. Divco West has pitched the project as a more affordable alternative to Kendall Square, a neighborhood further south in Cambridge housing large tech companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook, alongside pharmaceutical companies and start-ups. Cambridge Crossing will include five office buildings and nearly 2,400 condos or apartments. There will also be extensive ground-level retail space including restaurants and shops. Eleven acres have been set aside for a public park at the campus' center. "We've had some very good interest from prospective tenants already," Tom Sullivan, Divco West's president of development, told The Boston Globe. Office space within the development has been largely marketed toward tech, life science, and research groups, all thriving industries in Boston. The site could also potentially house part of Amazon's second headquarters, but not all of it–the tech giant's RFP requested up to eight million square feet of office space. In 2015, Divco West paid $291 million for the total acreage, which includes 17 individual parcels across what has been described as Cambridge's "last frontier"–the city's largest remaining infill development. The site will be even more accessible with the relocation of a Green Line light rail stop four minutes away. Plans for the development are moving through staggered permitting processes in each of the three cities involved. There is no set timeline for construction yet. Divco West expects the development to garner interest among organizations seeking cheaper spaces with more amenities in the increasingly expensive rental landscape of Boston.
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Climate Profiles: Chris Reed, Stoss, and the future of Boston’s waterfront

In AN's new series of climate profiles, we will be learning from designers who are working to incorporate climate responsiveness in their work or have blazed the way for others in the field.  As this year's hurricane season reaches its third quarter, coastal and riverfront cities across the country are thinking more than ever about how to adapt urban landscapes to increasingly intense storm surge and sea level rise. Chris Reed, founding principal of Stoss and professor of landscape architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), is particularly good at asking questions about these issues. While completing his undergraduate degree in urban history at Harvard College in the 1990s, Reed was exposed to a split in schools of thought among landscape architects: one approaching landscape at the scale of urban planning, another at the more traditional gardens and parks scale. James Corner, who at the time was beginning his own landscape practice, was someone Reed felt successfully merged the two. Reed sought to do the same. In 2001, after he completed a Master’s at the University of Pennsylvania, Reed’s firm Stoss was born out of a desire to create high-density urban environments thoroughly engaged with landscapes and environmental processes. Over nearly two decades, Stoss has completed riverfront designs for five cities across the globe (Shanghai, Green Bay, Minneapolis, Dallas, and London, Canada) as well as countless waterfront parks and public spaces. A 2011 profile of Reed in Places Journal noted that "stoss" is a German word that means "to kick, as in 'kick in the pants,' to initiative, activate." In Dallas, Stoss' Trinity Waterfront project innovatively addressed a vacant flood zone of land dividing the downtown area from Trinity River, which winds through the city. The city wanted to transform this zone into a new public space and economic boon to draw developers. While the city's RFP asked designers to connect the downtown area to the waterfront, Stoss expanded the landscape in two directions – extending fingers of the river and wetlands into the city, and likewise extending the city out into the flood zone. This is especially illustrative of Stoss' approach to adaptive water management. Even an open-air theater has the capacity to flood, diverting waters from the paved and developed areas beyond. The sports fields are flanked by bioswales, depressed areas that are designed to capture runoff. The resulting parklands are both densely urban and perform ecological functions. "The debate now has become not just how to incorporate environmental resilience into cities but also social resilience," Reed told AN. "The world is not the same as when I was in school. Now we have to ask questions like: what are the responsibilities of designers to address climate change, population growth, political shifts–and how have all of these things affected design?" Most recently, Stoss has worked on providing solutions to some of the climate-focused questions through a large-scale riverfront project in Boston. In January 2017, the City of Boston released a public RFP seeking design teams to realize elements of their Imagine Boston 2030 plan. A major part of the plan is riverfront development, both in terms of creating more effective storm-resistant infrastructure as well as in creating compelling public spaces. Stoss was an obvious firm to address the tasks at hand. Of the six neighborhoods identified in Imagine Boston 2030 for waterfront renewal, Stoss was selected to work on two: East Boston and Charlestown. In East Boston, the site runs roughly from around Falcon Street to Piers Park. The Charlestown stretch is still under wraps, with the entire waterfront owned by a single private entity. The focus for both will be on coastal flooding and sea level rise. To tackle these issues, Stoss partnered with Kleinfelder, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the New York office of Dutch firm One Architecture. According to Stoss' Studio Manager Amy Whitesides, the project will occur in a layered approach at three different scales. The first, most local scale, will look at simple engineering solutions to flooding, common sense gray infrastructure that will prevent stormwater from rising up or scouring its way into the city's streetscape. An example of this would be a retrofit to the East Boston Greenway that would funnel water along the park's existing railway rather than letting it run off into adjacent neighborhoods. The second, intermediate scale will look at the landscape's existing and potential ecologies—including the redesign of Piers Park itself. The current plan is to take the land and raise it into a berm-like park, creating a barrier that will protect the Greenway and the residential areas while doubling as public space. The third scale looks at the waterfront as a whole from a developer's standpoint, asking which areas will require rezoning for designs to be effectively implemented, how to address private interest (as a good portion of the waterfront property included is privately owned), and perhaps most importantly: how will this all get paid for? The project takes inspiration from the same multi-scalar approach Reed discussed – territory-scale projects with a social bent. "I'm interested in projects that are more about setting up relationships between people rather than relying solely on form-based agendas," Reed told AN. "How do you have a conversation that might seek change?" In East Boston and Charlestown, these kind of conversations are well underway. The design team has held over fifty meetings with stakeholders ranging from Boston's Department of Parks and Recreation to private developers, held community workshops in all of the affected neighborhoods, and formed working partnerships with a number of local nonprofits to inform the design. According to Reed, it should be impossible to complete such large-scale designs with far-reaching impacts without forging local relationships. "Many cities across the U.S. are looking at profound issues of aging infrastructure," Reed said"With major riverfront projects like this, the changes made are often wrapped up in concerns about affordability." Reed referred to the fear of rent increases pushing out residents as new development moves into neighborhoods. "In dealing with climate change, the question becomes: how do we design for equity? How do we make for welcoming spaces?" Stoss will formally announce their design for the Imagine Boston 2030 plan in the coming weeks.
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Boston’s emerging designers get spotlight in design biennial

Winners of the fifth Design Biennial Boston can be viewed on The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy in Boston. Aimed to celebrate and give exposure to up-and-coming architects and designers from the New England region, the Biennial is on view until October 18th. This year, it consists of four installations which vary in themes, materials and artistic style. In order to bring their ideas to life, Design Biennial Boston has provided each winning team with $10,000 and access to cutting-edge fabrication equipment provided by sponsor Autodesk BUILD Space. The four winning teams, selected among a pool of designers from New England, were called upon to create installations echoing the region’s unique qualities and reflecting on the Greenway’s Playful Perspectives theme. The works by Jennifer Bonner of MALL, Rania Ghosn and El Hadi Jazairy of DESIGN EARTH, Daniel Ibañez of Margen-Lab, and Yasmin Vobis and Aaron Forrest of ULTRAMODERNE entertain ideas of rigid to free-flowing forms, local materials, economic trends, and global impacts all representative of the region. Another Axon by Jennifer Bonner of MALL (pictured above) is an installation comprised of a colorful array of twelve minimalist trees. A play on traditional architecture and design rendering, the installation uses common building materials such as vinyl siding, stucco, and artificial turf to challenge perceived building ideas. Primitive by Yasmin Vobis and Aaron Forrest of ULTRAMODERNE is a geometric disposition of lines juxtaposed with rough materials: rugged cedar columns canopied with a thin aluminum shroud. The relationship between the shapes create an experience of existence within an abstracted, delicate grove. Blue Marble Circus by Rania Ghosn and El Hadi Jazairy of DESIGN EARTH is a spherical, plastic monument highlighting the correlation between humanity's actions and the degradation of the ecosystem. The installation, as the name suggests, is a deep-blue plastic sphere which through form, color and material refers to the iconic symbol of environmental awareness. Ways of Wood by Daniel Ibañez of MARGEN-LAB is a compilation of logs that serve as public seating. The logs draw a visual connection between different states in timber's industrial process, from raw material to its highly polished state as a designed object. The installation aims to initiate a conversation on North America’s timber extraction industry and serve as a reminder of the often forgotten natural source of timber.
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A new building for the nation’s oldest conservatory of music

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This week, the first building added in 60 years to New England Conservatory’s (NEC) historic Boston campus will open.  The new Student Life and Performance Center (SLPC) is a ten-story mixed-use structure offering over 250 residential units, along with space for dining and music-related preparatory work with a focus on collaborative research and experimentation. Ann Beha Architects (ABA) and Gensler designed and realized the building as a collaborative and integrated team—the two firms’ fourth collaboration.
  • Facade Manufacturer Centria (metal panels); Terreal North America (terra cotta)
  • Architects Ann Beha Architects (Design Architect); Gensler (Associate Architect and Architect of Record)
  • Facade Installer Tishman Construction Company/AECOM (construction manager)
  • Facade Consultants Simpson Gumpertz & Heger (envelope); LeMessurier Consultants (structural engineer)
  • Location Boston, MA
  • Date of Completion 2017
  • System terra cotta tiles installed in a rainscreen assembly
  • Products NeXclad Classic 16” tile by Terreal North America, with Impressionist Series glazing from Ludowici
Both the design team and the Conservatory wanted the project to have a unique identity and distinctive expression. Sited in a historic context, the design team sought a traditional cladding material that expressed craft, sustainability, and durability. They prioritized a “handmade” aesthetic, ruling out the machine-like qualities of colored concrete panels, composite materials, and costly glass curtain wall systems. The exterior envelope ultimately featured a refined composition of variegated terra-cotta tiles, applied in mixed patterns, with broad glass expanses at street levels, and stainless steel screen cladding. Offset operable windows animate the upper floors, and north-facing open lounges offer expansive views of Boston. ABA turned to Ludowici, a terra-cotta manufacturer known for 19th century historic tile roof renovations. Its subsidiary, Terreal North America, engaged with the architecture team during the design process and produced samples for full-scale on-site studio mock-ups. The mock-ups became an integral part of the design process due to the custom nature of the tiles, their assembly system, and finish options, and helped to facilitate collaboration between the design team, client, and city oversight groups. “The idea of implementing this innovative facade was exciting for the Conservancy,” said Ann Beha, owner of ABA. “The fact that you couldn’t just go see something like this elsewhere meant that mockups were an essential part of the process.” The architecture team worked closely with Terreal North America to develop a gradient range of tiles that animate and anchor the building. Deep tones located at the base of the tower give way to lighter hues as the height increases. The challenge became how to achieve this effect within technical and budgetary constraints. The team worked with three glazes, each with a wide variety of coloration. Percentages of these mixes were then varied. The architects developed a “paint by number” style document to specify the final distribution across the facade, which the installer referenced on site. The unique color blends were created by a proprietary glazing process designed by Ludowici, referred to as their “Impressionist Series.” The process features a random multi-spray matte glaze application that creates a unique finish patterning on every tile. The colors chosen included Terra Cotta, Dark Terra Cotta, and a custom color. Distinguished from and responding to the terra-cotta tile, the facade of the performance center is marked by a 40-foot-tall metal screen mounted in front of the orchestra rehearsal room’s double-height facade. The installed Centria metal panels have a ridged profile that improves their structural capacity, and vertical shadow lines. The material clads a radiused steel frame, reading as a vertical curtain that peels away from the building envelope to reveal the school's performance spaces.
AN spoke to ABA about the composition and detailing of the facade, which is organized around variable window spacing that relates to the width of student dormitories. “We liked the idea of an inscribed horizontal line that acts visually as a datum that all of these shifting panels could relate to,” said Steve Gerrard, principal at ABA. “It becomes especially important where the windows increase in their frequency. The line is an important compositional tool to relate to each of the floors.” Beyond compositional refinement, the envelope's energy performance allowed for a reduction in HVAC system sizing. Beha said the durability and aesthetic quality of the tile rainscreen cladding was particularly successful. “We see concrete panel structures built all over Boston, and they seem to lose their color, and their quality, so fast. This will not.” Beha concluded, “For me, the painterly aspects of the result are consistent with the issue of urban identity and urban contribution. We wanted a facade worth looking at and considering, and one that brought NEC distinction, dissimilar from others, and enduring, simple, distinguished, in its own way.” ABA said the facade composition reflects the New England Conservatory’s own ambitions: creative, contemporary exploration that combines tradition and innovation. The project was dedicated in a ceremony on September 14th, 2017, and will open to the public the following week with a full day of programming involving performances and talks.
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These three new developments could reshape Harvard Square

On June 1, a few dozen Cambridge, Massachusetts, officials, business leaders, and other key figures in the area gathered around a breakfast spread in Parsnip, a tony neighborhood restaurant owned by the billionaire investor Gerald Chan. They were there to glimpse a long-awaited plan for another one of Chan’s properties, the long-vacant Harvard Square Theater at 10 Church Street. Anthony Galluccio, Chan’s attorney and the former mayor of Cambridge, unveiled a bold proposal to knock down the 82-year-old cinema and replace it with a 60,000-square-foot mixed-use building with two theaters below-grade, street-level retail, and five stories of office space.

Two renderings released to the public show a light-filled atrium enclosed by glass and visible from the street through a gap in the facade, which is composed of alternating bands of glass and textured cork-and-cement panels rising out like classical pilasters. The design, by architects Paulo Martins Barata and Luís Teixeira of the Portuguese firm Promontorio and Elizabeth Whittaker of Boston-based Merge Architects, “will be contemporary in its presence and identity, while remaining culturally respectful of the overall architectural language throughout Harvard Square,” according to a statement from Whittaker.

Chan’s plans for the cinema building were well-received, staking out a rare bit of common ground in the long-running and increasingly heated debate over the future of Harvard Square. The cinema is the latest and perhaps most striking change in a flurry of new development that will transform Harvard Square for good—and, some local activists fear, for the worse.

Although the cinema building dates to 1925, preservationists did not object to calls for its demolition. Charles Sullivan, executive director of the Cambridge Historical Commission, described it as a “big brick box” interrupting the flow of Church Street.

Not all the changes to the neighborhood, however, are being welcomed quite so warmly. Take the block enclosed by Brattle, Mt. Auburn, and John F. Kennedy Streets, for example. Developer Regency Centers owns three adjacent buildings on the site, and has plans to replace one with a new five-story structure. In addition to restoring the historic facade of the neighboring flatiron Abbott building, Regency would widen the retail footprint on site, replacing the “World’s Only Curious George Store” with a concourse and escalator at the head of the building’s prominent frontage onto Harvard Square.

Some worry the overhaul will amount to a glorified mall, attracting chain stores instead of locally owned businesses and turning the site’s back on the center of the square.

“This has been a longstanding issue in Harvard Square,” said Charles Sullivan of the Cambridge Historical Commission. As a practical matter, however, Sullivan said Regency is not calling for a mall, because all of the building’s stores would open onto the street, not an enclosed concourse. City officials are in discussions with the developer about how many stores would be allowed in the new building; current proposals range from five to nine.

Perhaps the most contentious property in Harvard Square is also its smallest. After three decades as an eclectic newsstand, a former subway-station headhouse at the heart of the square has become a stand-in for a broader debate about the character of the neighborhood. The Harvard Square Subway Kiosk was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, but its future remains unclear.

A $4.6 million renovation plan for the square initially called for the kiosk’s demolition, but last year Cambridge City Council launched a study to landmark the building in response to public outcry. A city-appointed committee evaluating options for the kiosk’s future had its first meeting in May.

Denise Jillson, executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association, would like to see the kiosk become a permanent showcase for area businesses, featuring wares from a rotating cast of small businesses in the neighborhood. That would mean the end of Out of Town News, the 500-square-foot kiosk’s current tenant, which Jillson derides as a purveyor of tobacco, lottery tickets, and pornography.

About 15 years ago, development in Harvard Square settled into a relative lull, said Sullivan. With several high-profile projects underway today, however, tensions run high once again.

“As real estate development waxes and wanes, the temperature of the discussion changes accordingly,” said Sullivan. “There probably have been dozens of watershed moments in the history of the Square. It’s always evolved.”

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Inflatables are having another moment, thanks to the BSA Space in Boston

There was a moment in the late 1960s when architects (almost always working in groups) wanted to literally lift their projects off the ground and allow them to float over the everyday landscape. Groups like Haus-Rucker-Co, the French Utopie group, and Ant Farm were all inspired by earlier experiments of Archigram, Cedric Price, Buckminster Fuller, and engineers like Frei Otto. Though these experiments were almost always created for gallery exhibitions or one-off installations (Ant Farm placed a large inflatable bubble at UC Berkeley to warn students about the dangers of pollution in 1970) these works continue to inspire architects and every decade they seem to get rediscovered by a new generation. A current exhibition The New Inflatable Moment at the Boston Society of Architects (BSA) is bringing the work back yet again and even cites a previous show, the 1998 exhibition and book The Inflatable Moment: Pneumatics and Protest in '68 by Marc Dessauce and The Architectural League of New York, for inspiration and precedent. The French historian of modernism Caroline Maniaque also wrote about inflatables in 2004 for a different generation. The BSA exhibition also highlights recent projects by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Grimshaw, Anish Kapoor/Arata Isozaki, the late Otto Piene, and Norman Foster. But the exhibit also includes even newer projects by Graham Stevens, Chico MacMurtrie, and Berlin’s raumlabor. The idea of these projects also includes an element of idealistic utopianism and there is nothing wrong, at the moment, with idealism in architecture. The show still has a few weeks to run (through September 30th) so if you're in Boston visit the BSA Space (290 Congress Street, Boston, MA, 02210). Admission is free. Opening hours: 10:00 am to 6:00 pm on weekdays, and 10:00 am to 5:00 pm on weekends and holidays.