Charlesview discussion at the March 4 Boston Civic Design Commission meeting

The BCDC is a group of top Boston architects who review significant projects in Boston as part of the Article 80 Large Project Review process. Seems they were not too keen on the Charlesview design and are expecting a lot of changes. I've added links to profiles of the BCDC commissioners, all of whom are highly experienced and distinguished in the Boston architecture community.

Excerpted from the minutes of March 4, 2008:

The next item was a presentation of the Charlesview Redevelopment Project. Felicia Jacques of Community Builders introduced the Project, noting that Community Builders represented Charlesview Inc., the ownership entity of the existing 40-year-old Charlesview apartments at the corner of Western and North Harvard. HUD has deemed the apartment complex obsolete; they have been negotiating not only the land swap with Harvard, but also the transfer of housing credits via HUD. The existing property is 4.5 acres; the new is about 6.9, one 6.2-acre and one 3/4 acre site to the west along Western Avenue. The program includes not only the 213 replacement units but also up to a total of 282 units of affordable rental housing on the larger site, and 118 units of home ownership units (with a standard affordable ratio) on the smaller. It is a true mix of units, and meets a lot of urban design objectives, such as reconnecting with streets into the neighborhood, and connecting to the River.

Christopher Hill of CBT Inc. presented the design, noting first the the site and existing conditions. The K-Mart is defunct, abandoned, dead, not functional, derelict...the Project is a restorative. We extend Antwerp Street down to Western, retain Gould Street, and introduce a New street. The streets are a residential scale, with street parking on the side. A garage is below. There is a network of pathways, and larger spaces for the community. The FAR is 1.4 (vs. 1.75 allowed), we are emphasizing the open space. Christopher Hill then described the building programs, including retail and community space. They minimized shadows on the courtyards by the orientation, placing smaller buildings to the south.

William Rawn: Are the buildings connected?

Christopher Hill: The plans have progressed beyond those submitted in the PNF; i.e. the building connectors are gone, per William Rawn’s observation.

David Hacin: How do you cross Western to get to the River?

Christopher Hill: As we work with BTD, we will make it more doable with connectivity. The garage has two entries, which allows more flexibility and diffuses the traffic. (Shows elevations.) Breaking down the length along Western, by materials, window sizes, the impression of buildings accreted over time. There is no back door to the Project; it’s 360 degrees. Buildings are tripartite, with a base, middle, top. The townhouses are at a lower scale to connect to the community. A residential scale. We are moving away from the clapboard aesthetic, making it more contemporary, related to the rest of the project.

Christopher Hill then showed the Telford Street site design, the earlier scheme first, then the new. He showed a precedent board of ‘towers’ along the Charles River. The taller portion orients toward the River. There are now 8 stories instead of 10, with roofdecks and terraces on top.

Michael Davis: We should focus on the things we want to see in Design Committee.

Lynn Wolff: There is no relationship of building type to each other along the streets. I question the location of the New street. This is a real opportunity to create a neighborhood, but it feels suburban housing complexy. I know how the community feels about height. But the relationship between height and grace...height is not always the worst thing, when you have a wall. You are planting over the (garage) structure; you have to have the depth and infrastructure to support that.

Andrea Leers: I am not feeling as doubtful about the approach to the site plan. The street coming through seems a good connection; there are two good perimeter blocks. There is the potential to connect across Western.

Lynn Wolff: I was referring to the other street, to clarify.

Andrea Leers: Okay, yes. The scale also seems good - 4, 6, and 8 stories. I’m not so sure about the steppiness of it. Western is not automatically 6 stories, nor should the other side be short. The difference doesn’t seem so much - take an average. The elements could move around the site. The distinction now seems forced. Most successful is the language potential of Telford, which allows all scales. If it is a community, a continuity of language is better.

David Hacin: I agree with quite a bit of that. I know the shopping center well; this will be a tremendous asset, and the scaling down of the shopping center to a more local scale is very welcome. The way the housing turns the corner suggests that there might be more in the future. Maybe the building which turns the corner does have more retail, is more semi-public; a small restaurant or cafĂ© would add to that. If you had a corner landscaped, which allowed a transition across to Telford, so the site seemed integrated, that would be good. There is a band-aid at the shopping center now. The edge could really be improved. The block of townhouses by the Frugal Fanny’s remnant is the least convincing...maybe amenities would be a better transition. It’s a tough adjacency. How can your positive contribution be extended?

William Rawn: i will focus on the thing that troubles (me) the most - the block configuration. The middle part seems like it’s falling into the trap of the past. The programming of the open space - with double-loaded corridor blocks, there is little control over who’s there in the center. It really seems to be moving to a 1940's model. At Charlesview, are those mostly townhouses now?

Felicia Jacques: Yes, stacked townhouses.

William Rawn: 90% of them are now a different model, rather than the stacked townhouses; I think that’s a drastic change.

Kirk Sykes: The density and massing lack some clarity. Ignoring the industrial area at the back seems tough. The organization at the center...I agree with Bill. David’s idea of extending is good. Bar buildings, with townhouses between, tend to set up a wall in these developments.

Michael Davis: A favorite reference of mine, Denise Bennis’ (sp?) book on prairies: we are not good at making them, but making the conditions under which they prosper we’re good at. Here, to make a community, create those conditions - like doors on the street. NOT a gated, managed community and an ambiguous public realm. Doors would help. I am skeptical about the underground parking. Garages are deadly; you’re cheating. Everyone wants a car, and to see it; it helps to define a community. The public realm should be defined in a way that is more familiar. It’s very early in the Project...the space between the buildings is suspect as well. Cut down on the ambiguity.

Andrea Leers: One specific suggestion: change the balance between the double corridor and stacked townhouse types. Find a way to achieve the density with a different mix of types.

David Hacin: The landscape above the structured parking, and nature of the garage...what if the parking were on two levels? Rebalance things. Maybe the blocks should be a little more different, less homogeneous.

Kirk Sykes: There are examples of bar buildings that are more loft-like. Find a character that’s unique. The intent is to be a poster child of giving back, since the value of the existing Charlesview site to the (Harvard) campus is tremendous.

Lynn Wolff: Circulation and massing...your thought process would be good to see in the community.

Christopher Hill: We are getting push-back to create more common open space, not private space. There is a little disconnect. Also, the site is more porous, and less fortress-like, than the existing Charlesview.

David Hacin: Maybe, like at Rollins Square or Langham Court, it’s visible, and gated at times. Tent City you can see, and it feels public, but isn’t. Privateness and control, but the sense of permeability...I appreciate your sense of anxiety.

Lynn Wolff: There are other examples: Maverick Gardens, and Dudley.

Kirk Sykes: You can bifurcate...

Bob Kroin: We raised many of the questions you covered. One is the question of what happens to the rest of the shopping center, and other Harvard property, a broader context.

Brent Whelan (on Harvard Allston Task Force and the Allston Brighton North Neighborhood Forum): I am strongly supportive of the relocation concept; it’s exciting for all. I am also excited by Kairos Shen’s announcement of a new planning process. But I am also concerned that this Project is out ahead of that process. It may move forward at a pace that preempts planning. There are open space questions, and connection to the River...Soldiers Field Road is a barrier. The BRA would do well to ensure this Project moves at a rate coordinated with that process. Also, the site is a little small for the things that should be happening here. If Harvard were more generous (with the land) this could be done in a more reasonable way. Height is a concern, along Litchfield Street. The density, higher than Allston’s average, feels full. I was hoping for more ownership. There is a fair amount of rental still, beyond the 213. I’m concerned about the precedent of (aggregating) low income people; they should be more mixed together. The spaces don’t feel all that ‘common.’ Maybe this should be elsewhere on Harvard land....So, slowing down is good.

Shirley Kressel (community member): Are you getting a 121A?

Felicia Jacques: It’s existing. But we are considering a PDA, or both.

With that, the Charlesview Redevelopment Project was duly sent to Design Committee.

William Rawn: I encourage serious re-thinking.

David Hacin: Create a larger model.

Michael Davis: You have license to be creative.

Shirley Kressel: I agree with the comments.

1 comment:

  1. kressel and mattison in the same ring; a tag team esgqcfozcxtraordinaire