The Back Bay Architectural Commission (BBAC) met virtually on May 12, where members heard an advisory review for the proposal at 761-793 Boylston St. to build a five-story addition on the existing buildings.
“We have made some progress,” said attorney Dennis Quilty, that was based on feedback provided by the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB), as well as the BBAC and the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA).
Architect Sinead Khan said that five additional stories are being proposed “above the existing roof level” of these buildings, which are situated on Boylston St. between Exeter and Fairfield Streets.
There are four buildings that are home to Crate and Barrel, Atlantic Fish Co., and Abe & Louie’s Steakhouse. The square footage for the original proposal was 110,000 square feet, but it is now down to around 85,000 square feet, she said.
The facade will be maintained except for a section behind Crate and Barrel that Khan said has “no historical significance, as it’s been changed so much over the years.”
She also stressed that Atlantic Fish Co. and Abe & Louie’s will remain open during the construction.
The new project includes a shared lobby that “connects the upper levels of residential and office levels above.”
The second level will include retail space, the third will be “office space with the potential for retail space,” the fourth and fifth levels will be office space, and levels six, seven, and eight will have three residential units each for a total of nine units.
“At the roof level, there will be the possibility for amenity space for those residential units only,” Khan said.
The sidewalk will have eight feet of clearance, and the project is as of right and within requirements for Floor Area Ration and below the 90 foot height limit.
Khan said that the design team received “great feedback” from the Commission at their last advisory hearing, adding that they had implemented a “six bay expression at the front facade,” and heard that businesses are looking to have more outdoor space.
Balconies have been added to the design for the fourth and fifth stories, and the ones proposed for the sixth, seventh, and eighth floors will remain.
She added that previous discussion with the Commission also included balconies on the north facade of the building, which have also been implemented into the design for the office and residential floors.
Adjustments were also made to the design of the west facade, and Khan said that the team wants it to “feel like a different nature than the front facade along Boylston St.,” so the design now includes a metal panel facade with punched windows, while the front maintains its brick facade with a “complimentary color” to the existing brick.
The corner will also have a metal gray panel, while the east and west facades will have a different tone metal panel.
Commissioner James Berkman said he believes that the contrasting facades are “jarring,” and “not consistent with the historic facade on Boylston St. I would rather see a more uniform quality.”
Other Commissioners agreed with him, saying that the brick material should be the same around the entire building.
Commissioner Meredith Christiansen said that she likes the front and the back of the proposed addition, as well as the balconies on the back.
Director of Design Review for the Boston Landmarks Commission Joe Cornish said that he feels as though this design “went down another path from what the Commission discussed.” He said that he “thought it was clear” at the last hearing that they wanted to see the terracotta be on the west facade as well. “I’m not sure how we got to this point,” he said.
“I was a little taken aback when I saw this,” BBAC Chair Kathleen Connor said. She said this building is “too important,” and it’s important to figure out the appropriate design for the building. “I certainly would be in favor of a subcommittee for this building,” she said.
Alexa Pinard from the BPDA said that the BPDA wouldn’t have approved this particular design with the two different facade materials.
“This particular design is not one we would be inclined to support,” she said.
Connor said that moving forward, the design team and Commission will “hopefully have a clearer idea of direction. We’re looking forward to our next steps.”