BLC Wants More Information on Proposal for Mother Church Accessible Entry

The Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) on September 28 continued a discussion regarding the proposed accessible entry for the Mother Church extension at the Christian Science Church Complex.

The proposal includes creating an accessible entry that features a glass vestibule, elevator, retrofitting the existing lighting, an ADA push button, and the removal of the existing stairs to bring the entrance down to grade.

This proposal had previously come before the Commission in July, and Commissioners said they would like to see more options and work out some concerns regarding how the proposal would alter the way the church looks.

Regan Shields Ives of Finegold Alexander Architects presented the proposal on Tuesday evening, beginning by explaining the need for the project.

According to a slide presented at the hearing, “currently, there is only one elevator that services the plaza from the garage, which is how a majority of the congregation arrives at the church. The elevator is located at the far north end of the complex, making it difficult  for anyone that needs assistance from the garage to the plaza to access it.”

The purpose of the project is to create that accessible entrance so everyone can access the mother church both from the garage and from the plaza at all times.

Right now, there is a difference in elevation between the plaza and the lobby, and carved woof doors in the “vestibule and future elevator openings,” according to the presentation. There are three arched openings currently, two of which have carved wood doors. The elevator is proposed to be where the doors currently are on the lefthand side.

The originally proposed design included a symmetrical design that would offer a “24/7 weather controlled accessible entry from plaza,” but the work to the historic facade would not be able to be undone.

In a “modified version,” the proposal includes the same things that the original design included, but with “minimal attachment points from glass storefront to back of arched openings.” The work would be reversible, but the existing wooden doors would have to be removed and stored, and using glass to create a vestibule curtain wall would “introduce new material” that does not currently exist in the area. Additionally, the floor of the vestibule would be lowered and new stone veneer would have to be installed so it matches the current facade.

Shields Ives also talked about several suggestions made by the BLC and how those would play out, citing several issues with code compliance and issues with exterior elevators. There was some back and forth between the team and the Commissioners about different aspects of the design, but questions still remained in the end.

The team said that they want to preserve the existing tiled arched ceiling and not attach anything to that. The glass vestibule is necessary for the elevator to protect it from the elements and keep heat and air conditioning in.

Commissioners David Berarducci and Brad Walker, who sit on the design review committee of the BLC, said that they still needed some more information about the proposal. Berarducci said he said some concerns with the “heavy metal framing” that was proposed for the doors.

Walker said that “…the least visually disturbing thing to do is to treat the three of these arches as a set, not make two of them low and one of them high as previously suggested.”

He continued, “Your proposed modified version does the best job of balancing the various concerns.”

Berarducci said, “I feel like we’re at an impasse at this point,” adding that he was not a fan of the “visible structural glass,” and reiterated his concerns with the metal framing.

He said he wanted to see a rendering showing glass for three of the arches and the removal of the stairs on the left side for the elevator. “It’s going to be an asymmetrical look, but I want to see how bad it is,” he said, and “how intrusive it’s going to be to the architecture that’s existing.”

Berarducci added that he would also like to see a view of the “now exposed interior” would look like with these proposed modifications.

He said that the arches without a elevator do not have to have the steps removed; “they could stay the way they are at the same elevation and not have to have a glass enclosure.”

Ultimately, the BLC voted to ask the applicant to “come back with a better rendering” of either the left arch with the glass and the other two left open and the modified version that includes a more symmetrical concept with doors in the middle and a glass enclosure on the back of all three arches.

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