The Boston Civic Design and the South End Landmark District Commission met for a presentation of the 12-story Hotel Alexandra proposal on Jan. 22. The Sun reported last week that reviews and comments on the project need to be completed by the end of February, so it can potentially be voted on at the Boston Planning and Development Agency meeting on March 14. There are also several expedited community meetings scheduled for the coming weeks regarding design, noise, and mitigation efforts.
David Nagahiro, a principal at CBT Architects, presented the proposal to the group, explaining the things they’d done in response to a previous hearing at South End Landmarks. Nagahiro said the current elevations show that the design picks up on certain elements in the current facade of the building, and the new tower needs to be kept “as clean and simple as possible.” They have also removed the originally proposed structure on the top of the building to try and bring the height down.
“I appreciate a lot of the decisions you’ve made,” said BCDC Commissioner Andrea Leers. She said her main concern was the setback, especially on Washington Street, as it is “dangerously shallow.” She said that a 61/2- foot setback is “not enough to have a sense that the hotel has life inside.”
“It needs to have a sense of lived space behind that wall,” she said. “I understand that’s a tremendous pressure.” She added, however, that she believes the tower itself is “crafted well.”
Nagahiro responded by saying that they have actually been pressured to push it the other way to make room for what is happening inside the hotel so the rooms are large enough.
John Freeman of the South End Landmark District Commission said that the Hotel Alexandra “is the gateway to the South End,” and the blank facade that was presented for one side of the tower is “not the right way to do it.” He said it needed more articulation, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be more windows. He agreed with Leers that more of a setback on the Washington Street facade is important. He also said that the newly proposed entrances are better than they were before, and that the architects have chosen the right massing for the lower portion of the buildings.
“I’d rather see one more floor if you could do that setback,” Leers said. Others agreed with her, even though they said they weren’t the biggest fans of the height to begin with. She also agreed with Freeman that the back wall should be presented as another face of the building and not a blank wall.
“You’ve done a lot of nice things here,” said BCDC Commissioner David Manfredi. “The tower is quite elegant.”
South End Landmarks Commissioner John Amodeo was concerned about the danger this building has of setting a difficult precedent in the district. “If that is the case then we have to work at it being a proper tower from all sides; not a clear front, back, side,” he said. He also said that the hotel entrance and the restaurant facade are details that are “desperately in need of attention.”
“From some views, the Alexandra looks like an accessory to the tower and not the building we are looking at,” Amodeo added. “I think again, I am not a fan of the heigh of this, I agree with Andrea to add a floor and give us a full-room depth.”
He said that this was especially important for the Landmarks Commission, as they are “not concerned about what goes on inside.” Amodeo said that their job is to make sure that the original Alexandra is preserved.