A subcommittee of the Back Bay Architectural Commission (BBAC) met virtually on April 12 to discuss the proposed building at 149 Newbury St., which will sit on the corner of Newbury and Dartmouth Streets.
The proposed building is five stories tall and will offer about 17,500 square feet of retail space and about 26,000 square feet of office space, according to the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA).
This project last came before the BBAC early last year, and the team said they have been working on refining the design based on comments and feedback received from various organizations.
Architect Haril Pandya went over the design changes, starting with the overall building envelope. The originally proposed design featured a lot of glass, and after receiving several comments, more brick has been added to the facade.
He said that early last year, there were several different “corner treatments” where some of the designs featured the entry on the corner, while others placed it on either Newbury or Dartmouth Streets instead.
Aside from the concerns about too much glass, Pandya said that other feedback from last year included looking more at the corner, reviewing brick colors, looking at the brick detail along the facades on Newbury and Dartmouth Streets, looking at the scale and proportions of the office windows, and taking a look at alternatives for the proposed floating brick piers.
Pandya said that moving to the alley, the paving on the ground will be brick, the trash will be located farther away, and there will also be a loading area as well as a bike area with some landscaping. There is also an “opportunity” for a flowering tree to be planted in the alley area, he said.
“We also felt that it was important to turn one bay into the alley,” Pandya said.
He then talked about the fifth floor cornice, saying that the team “lost a lot of the articulation to simplify it,” and now just includes “a simple band.”
He said in his “personal opinion,” it’s “nice to have a level of articulation.”
Chris Jones of engineering firm IBI Group talked about the public realm portion of the project, saying that they want to “delineate between the public and the private space,” as well as wanted to understand “the fabric of Newbury St. today.”
He talked about the existing concrete sidewalk on Newbury St., as well as the proposed brick promenade and granite threshold.
There is also a proposed custom wood and steel base bench that allows for seating on both sides and is “meant to be as flexible as possible,” and “begins to provide some verticality as we get to the corner and defines that edge,” Pandya said.
“We know we have to incorporate bike parking ion the site as well as find a home for Bluebikes,” he added.
Pandya then talked about the interior floor plans of the building, adding that they do not yet know what tenants would go in the building.
“I want to applaud the design team,” said Commissioner Robert Weintraub. “This project has come leaps and bounds from the first time you presented it to us.” He said that in his opinion, the team is “close to being done here.”
He added that “redirecting the entryway to either street is probably the right thing to do,” and he also said he likes the staggered bay window design as it “breaks up the monotony.” Weintraub also said that he likes the thicker cornice and the taller, grander entry for the office space.
He then asked abut the brick color, to which Pandya said that “as of right now, there’s really just one brick.” He said “we don’t want it to necessarily blend with the abutters, but it will fit within the context of the other buildings in the area.
“What defines the Back Bay historically are buildings with energy and idiosyncrasies,” said Commissioner David Eisen.
“You started out this project with some very unresolved but interesting ideas,” he said. “To me, it is a bit unfortunate that those haven’t been developed and accepted.”
He said he believes the bays are “important elements” while walking down the street.
“It is a very handsome building,” said BBAC Chair Kathy Connor. “I do, however, feel that’s such an important corner.” She said that the “animation you started out with…certainly made a statement from all angles.”
She said that she recognizes that it’s “been reduced dramatically based on design by committee,” but it’s “still an important message to have the corner articulated.”
She added that she believes the “alleyway gives it a sense of presence and importance,” and agrees with other Commissioners that uplighting the brick could be a positive aspect for the building.
Commissioner John Christiansen said that he likes the design for the building, but would like to see a “heavier cornice on the corner,” which could be lightened up in other areas. “I think that could work fine,” he said. “The corner is more important.”
He said he likes the entrance on the side rather than on the corner, and prefers the more open two story entrance. “I like the overhang,” he said, adding that “you see that as you go up the street. I do think there’s a lot of light coming out of it.”
Sue Prindle of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB) said that she believes Pandya has “done a fabulous job of dealing with comments.” She also said that the NABB Architecture Committee “had brought up the cornice issue,” and “I think there should be a hierarchy of cornices,” she said. “The lower one maybe fights with the upper one a little bit.”
She also said that while she “loves” the bench, she said she has concerns about skateboarders using it.
Joe Cornish, Director of Design Review for the Boston Landmarks Commission, said that there will most likely be one more subcommittee meeting to address the BBAC’s remaining issues and concerns with the design, and then it will go before the full Commission for a vote.