The South End Landmark District Commission (SELDC) heard a second advisory review for the new four story building proposed for 85 W. Newton St., which will be occupied by Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción (IBA) as the Villa Victoria Center for the Arts.
The architects for the project are STUDIO ENÉE architects and Ann Beha Architects, and IBA CEO Vanessa Calderón-Rosado also attended the hearing to listen to feedback and provide additional information. She said that the team is “grateful” for the feedback they received from the first advisory review.
Ann Beha from Ann Beha Architects said that several community meetings have been held regarding this design, including five SELDC staff reviews and the previous advisory review, along with nine community meetings and seven meetings with the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA).
Beha also went over proposed materials for the exterior of the building, which include a granite base, brick and terracotta masonry, a solid panel metal penthouse, a glass curtain wall, gray satin or matte mullions, glass rails and windows with working sashes, and a custom mural, according to a slide presented.
She said that key issues for this project include the “relationship to the South End’s architectural legacy,” as well as the building’s relation and response to W. Newton St. and the adjacent park, having a “base, middle, and top,” as well as “a balance of color, transparency, [and] solidity,” and “opportunities for distinction, identity, [and] contribution.”
A change in height has been made since the last advisory review from 70 feet, which is the allowable height, to 62 feet with a penthouse.
Beha also talked about the terracotta colored facade, which has been deepened to better fit within the context of the South End.
Natasha Espada of STUDIO ENÉE said that with the cadence of the building, the team is “trying to create a rhythm that is similar to other properties and other buildings in the South End.”
After some clarifying questions from Commissioners, they made comments on the proposal as it stands now.
Commissioner Catherine Hunt said that with the “base, middle, top” rhythm, “I guess the penthouse is serving as the top in the new concept. It appears in the middle section, which is comprised then of the second, third, and fourth stories, that the fourth story is larger and appears to be top heavy over the other two.”
Beha said that “as we’ve developed this, what we’re trying to do is also keep the building very light.” She said she agrees that the “proportion has to be studied more,” as well as do the windows, but it is “starting to come together at least in terms of consistency of the composition.”
Commissioner Fabian D’Souza praised the design team for their addition of South End design elements, but brought up the side of the building that faces the park, specifically the windows.
“Our attention has been tremendously focused on the streetscape and on the park scape,” Beha said, and we have to look at these other pieces and I think we have to find their voice.”
Hunt thanked D’Souza for bringing up the windows in the corner of that facade, adding that “I think that adds to that feeling of that top floor being a little top heavy.”
Beha said that other options could definitely be explored for that, but she said that there is “something about its openness,” adding that it is “almost a bay window that’s illuminating.” She agreed that the “top heavy” comment is one the design team will take into consideration when refining details.
Commissioner John Freeman praised the team for their efforts and their seriousness when it comes to addressing comments and concerns from the Commission.
“It’s very clear that you’ve thought very carefully about this,” he said, adding that he feels the team has included more South End elements “without losing the integrity of your concept.”
As Commissioner John Amodeo brought up before, Freeman said that “the typical vocabulary is ABC or ABB,” but he said that this does not always have to be followed so long as other elements are incorporated to make the building feel like it belongs in the neighborhood.
He said he does not feel as though the penthouse is enough of a top portion for the building because of the way it is set back, but “I think there are things that can be done to respond and to make that sense of the proportions as you rise, perhaps a little more in the South End vocabulary.”
He said that the proposed massing is “wonderful,” and by putting focus on the street-facing facade, “you made a building that’s very responsive on the street.” For the park facade, he said the response doesn’t need to be as strong. He also said that he likes the fact that there is no cornice on top of the proposed community room on the park side. “They’re almost like two separate buildings,” he said.
Freeman did say that he would like to see a “more articulated entry,” as that “would help it be more of a South End building.”
Amodeo also praised the design team, saying that “it’s amazing what a subtle change can do to change the whole complexion of the building.”
He agreed with Freeman that the massing is working well, and that the community room “feels like a different building.” He also said that he likes the corner windows, admitting that “they are atypical but I think they work here mostly because the massing is strong and the terracotta skin is strong.”
Amodeo suggested that the entry “could be celebrated a little bit more,” and “I think the cornice could be stronger.”
He also suggested that the proposed penthouse have a cornice “or some kind of top” as well.
“I think those are things we can look at,” Beha said.
Amodeo also talked briefly about signage, saying that South End buildings for commercial use typically include a sign band. This proposal includes the IBA logo right on the facade on the front of the building, but Amodeo said that “If IBA were to not be the only forever tenant in this building and another tenant were to come in, where would they put their signage? That’s something we have to think about.”
Additionally, Amodeo said he was pleased to learn that the team is planning to use some of the granite from the original church that was demolished in the base of this new building. He asked if any other materials from the church will be used in the new building.
“It’s a longer conversation, but we have hopes and plans to try and install stained glass windows in many public spaces,” Beha said.
During public comment, resident Charles Dennison said he liked the colors and materials presented, as well as the proposed height. His criticisms were that the “front of the building feels a little bit too flat,” and he is “not a huge fan of the asymmetric windows.” He also said it “feels like the building very quickly steps down from four stories to two.”
Resident Jonathan Alves said that he is “pleased with the way IBA has involved the community in this process from the very start,” and was happy to see that feedback had been incorporated between this advisory review and the last. “My hope as a resident is that this project will be able to move forward expeditiously,” he said.
Amodeo said that the project team now needs to decide if they will come back before the Commission for another advisory review, or if they have received sufficient feedback to come back with an application for a vote.
“I think that we will take your comments into consideration and go back with the team,” Calderón-Rosado said, and “see if we feel we need to come back with another advisory.” She said that they will continue to work with Landmarks staff on this proposal to work out details and decide what the next move will be.