SELDC Hears Third Advisory Review for New IBA Building at 85 W. Newton St.

The South End Landmark District Commission (SELDC) heard a third advisory review for the proposed building at 85 West Newton St., which will be the new home for Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción (IBA).

The project last came before the Commission in November, when Commissioners provided feedback on a number of aspects of the proposal. The purpose of advisory reviews is for the Commissioners and the project team to discuss and shape the proposal into something that can eventually be voted on by the Commission.

The proposal is to consttruct a four story building that includes performace and multipurpose event space, space for art exhibition, practice rooms, classrooms, meeting rooms, and community rooms, as well as office space for IBA and other services offered by the organization.

The previous building at this location—formerly the All Saints Lutheran Church—was demolished in 2020 because of structural concerns.

The architects for this project are Natasha Espada of STUDIO ENÉE and Ann Beha of Ann Beha Architects, both of whom were on hand during this hearing.

Beha said that “what we heard form the last meetings was that we should continue to study the window and the proportions and the cadence of windows from the ground level all the way to the top and their proportion and relationships.”

She also said the team was asked to look “at the corner location,” as well as the West Newton St. cornice, the windows by the playground, the entrance and the signage, the city gate, and the materials for the building. Additionally, the team was charged with deciding what they “can do to accommodate some of the artifacts that remain from the historic church.”

Espada spoke about the windows and the upper level of the building, saying that the design team has “decreased the upper level window dimensions,” as well as “revised the facade to accommodate new windows” and “raised the bottom edge of the terra cotta at the first floor”.” Though the parapet height has been reduced, none of the floor elevations have been changed.

She also said that the cornice thickness has been increased from six to eleven inches “with further articulation.”

There are two options proposed for the upper level, one that “increases the street presence of the penthouse by moving it forward” with the thicker cornice and smaller terra cotta on the fourth floor, and another that includes the original penthouse location, which is pushed back, also with a thicker cornice.

For the entrance and signage proposal, Espada said that the setback will comply with the Complete Streets guidelines, and a replica of the existing alley gate is included in the entrance design.

The original proposal included the red and yellow colors of the IBA logo on the facade of the building, but a more monochrome gray option was proposed for the sign this time.

After talking about some more details for the ground floor portion, Beha said that “we’re still inventorying everything that we have” from the demolition of the historic church. The proposal right now includes using the stained glass windows inside on the lower lobby of the building.

The team then spoke about materials.  Beha said that “we don’t normally have every dimension of every material and every final color” until the project is closer to starting construction,” but proposed materials include brick, terra cotta, granite, “and some type of gray metal,” Espada said.

There were two types of endicott iron spot brick that were discussed, one that was a manganese gray color, and one that was darker. There are a “range of colors and textures and finishes of terra cotta” that are available, and samples will be obtained to examine on-site, the team said.

All Commissioners praised the project team for their thorough presentation and for addressing their comments and concerns from past hearings.

“It’s becoming so much more of a real and robust building,” said Commissioner John Freeman. He said he prefers the penthouse wall set back further.

“In this case, what it does is it emphasizes your cornice,” he said.

Freeman said that the “only concern I have” is “how much are you going to see the windows” that have terra cotta around them. He suggested that the window articulations in those areas be examined.

Commissioner Catherine Hunt said that last time, her concern was the “seeming top-heaviness” of the building. “You addressed that beautifully,” she said, adding that it is “so much more appropriate for a South End building now.” Hunt also said she prefers the newly proposed signage without the color,

Commissioner Fabian D’Souza said that “I like the way that you’ve adjusted the corner windows.” He said it “really works so much better.” He agreed with Freeman that the pushed-back penthouse is the better option. D’Souza said he likes the logo with the colors better, disagreeing with Hunt.

“This is one place where we’re trying to show a vibrant community,” he said. “I’d be really remiss to have that logo be made into a monochrome effect just to sort of go in line with other buildings.”

SELDC Chair John Amodeo agreed that since “they’re not a corporation” and offer services to the community, “colorfulness is nice for that.”

He added, “personally, I think you’re on your way to an application. Thank you for altering the window proportions as Catherine said; now it feels right.” He also said he likes the “thickening of the cornice” and the new corner windows.

Amodeo said that while he “could accept the penthouse forward or backward,” since the other Commissioners liked it better pushed back, “I’m fine with that,” he said.

He said that further discussion will be needed regarding the color of the brick.

“We’re in the South End,” he said. “I can’t think of one contributing building that has gray brick.” He said that he likes the terra cotta, but the brick color will require a deeper conversation as this project moves into a formal application and a subcommittee review.

As far as using pieces from the historic church, he said that a photograph of the church might be also helpful to have so people can understand what was originally on the site.

Overall, the Commission thanked the team for their presentation and said they anticipate working together as the design continues to progress.

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