Final Decision on Mother Church Accessible Entry Remanded to BLC Subcommittee

A proposal to create an accessible entry at the the Christian Science Church’s Mother Church came before the Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) for a third time on October 26, where the Commission voted to remand the final review of the entry to a subcommittee after Design Review commissioners reached an impasse with which design would be best.

In July, the project team was asked to come back with more information about different options for the accessible entry. At this hearing, architect Regan Shields Ives presented two versions of the opening: one that enclosed just the elevator portion for the leftmost entry arch and left the other two arches and their stairs as-is, and one that enclosed all three arches in glass to create one common vestibule where everyone could enter together. Both options were shown using a stainless steel frame as well as a bronze colored frame as choices.

Commissioner David Berarducci said he doesn’t like the stainless steel option, and would prefer to see the bronze instead. He also asked, “Why can’t the doors themselves be seamless? Why do they have to have a frame around them? It’s more in keeping with the invisibility of the glass.”

Architect Christopher Lane said that due to the automatic closer needed for the door and to create a “true airlock” to keep inclement weather out of the vestibule, some framing is required.

However, Shields Ives said that “we can certainly continue to push that with the manufacturers,” in reference to lessening the thickness of the framing. She said they “can see how minimal we can go without compromising the purpose of the vestibule.”

Berarducci said that he would prefer to have just the elevator arch enclosed with glass to create the vestibule for the elevator, and leave the other two arches as they are now. “I think that’s the least invasive,” he said.

Commissioner Brad Walker agreed that the bronze finish is the way to go, but disagreed with Berarducci about the best option for the entry as a whole. “Treating all of them at once is less jarring to me,” he said, adding that it “calls less attention” to the fact that changes have been made to the building’s exterior. 

Shields Ives said that the architects’ preferred option is also to enclose all three arches, because enclosing just the one would present challenges such as cutting stone from the building, and the team is also “trying to have as few touchpoints as possible for the historic tile” that is on the ceiling behind the arches.

Lane added that enclosing just the single arch “doesn’t provide the access that the church is looking for,” as enclosing all three to create one large vestibule is inclusive to everyone entering the building, and those using wheelchairs or other mobility devices wouldn’t have to use a separate door for entry.

“I hear that,” Berarducci said, but “our charge” is to do what would be most “minimally invasive to the building.” He said that taking out all of the existing stairways is “hugely invasive. I’m very disappointed. I think what looks best is keeping the two stairways intact and only altering the elevator end of the archway.” He also suggested an alternate way to attach the glass enclosure with a metal framing.

“At the end of the way, we still have to attach metal to this wall,” Shields Ives said, adding that there will be “things that are impacting the stone detail work.”

Walker said, “I think everyone’s got the same goal,” which is to “have accessibility in the way that’s the most generous” and that’s “least calling attention to itself and also in the least minimally invasive way.”

Joe Cornish, Director of Design Review for the Boston Landmarks Commission, suggested that a subcommittee be formed to get more opinions on the final design choice.

“If we could do that, I think it would be the best option,” Berarducci said, and Walker agreed.

“I appreciate the patience of the applicant,” Berarducci added.

The full commission voted to remand all details and the final decision to a subcommittee so that the applicant will not have to come back before the full Commission for an approval. That hearing or hearings will be open to the public and posted at boston.gov/publicnotices when scheduled.

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