The latest innovations in Boston real estate
From designing Boston skyscrapers to revitalizing Somerville's Assembly neighborhood, these people and projects are making a mark.
The following people and organizations are on our list of 2015 Game Changers. They did extraordinary things last year, reshaping the way we live and work.
From designing a soon-to-be-landmark skyscraper to developing tricked-out apartments, these men are making a mark during Boston’s biggest real estate boom in decades
IN NEIGHBORHOODS ACROSS BOSTON, real estate is changing more rapidly than it has in years. A building boom is giving developers, architects, and public officials a rare opportunity to reshape many parts of the city with structures that cater to new ways of urban living and working. It is high-stakes work that will affect the look and feel of Boston for generations. Many people contributed to those developments last year. Three in particular brought new ideas to major building projects that are remaking the skyline and street corners from the Back Bay to Roxbury to the East Boston waterfront.
One is an architect who designed the Hancock Tower, among other prominent buildings, and returned to the Back Bay to draft plans for a new skyscraper at the edge of the Christian Science Plaza. Another is pushing bolder architecture and new types of housing as the planning director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority. The third is the president of a Portland, Oregon-based development firm that made a big bet on Boston’s rental market and is now building hundreds of apartments for a wave of newcomers. In Boston’s biggest real estate boom in decades, each of them has seized a chance to shake up the city.
Henry Cobb — architect, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners
Henry Cobb is perhaps best known as the architect of Boston’s tallest building, the John Hancock Tower. But last year, he completed designs for another project of crucial importance to the evolution of the Back Bay: a 61-story hotel and condominium tower at the edge of the Christian Science Plaza. If the Hancock is the city’s most striking office building, the new tower at One Dalton Place — designed by Cobb and Gary Johnson of Cambridge Seven Associates — could become its most compelling residential address. It will include the city’s second Four Seasons Hotel and 180 luxury condominiums in a skyscraper that will top out at almost 700 feet. At that height, One Dalton will certainly make its mark on the skyline. But Cobb says the real magic of the building’s design is how it connects to the Christian Science property and the low-rise neighborhood around it. “We wanted the Mother Church to remain the center of the precinct,” he says. “We wanted this building to acknowledge the church, but not to challenge it.”
The tower was designed in a soft triangle to mimic the unusual geometry of the Christian Science property. Each of its condominiums will feature bay windows with views in multiple directions, and the base will be fitted with generous amounts of Chelmsford granite — the same stone used in every Boston curb — to reflect the city streets around it. It is a building, like the Hancock before it, that offers something modern and new while also managing to respect, even elevate, the city’s past.
“The most important thing to be learned from Boston is that when you tackle any project in an urban setting, it needs to be placed in the stream of history that came before it,” Cobb says. “You need to understand how it got to where it is to understand what it can become.”
Kairos Shen — planning director, Boston Redevelopment Authority
Over the decades, the height of buildings has often dominated the debate about Boston’s development. It was a cardinal sin to propose a structure that would be labeled as too tall or its architecture too bold for historic Boston. But in the city’s recent construction spree, Kairos Shen, the planning director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, has begun to flip that script, pushing the city’s developers to bring creative designs to the forefront, regardless of height. “It’s sort of a cop-out to just say that something is too tall,” Shen says. “It’s a very lazy way of engaging in the discussion about the physical quality of a building. Height is just one of many factors that contribute to the character of a proposal and its effect on the city.”
In the last year, the BRA has approved new towers in Downtown Crossing, the Back Bay, North Station, Government Center, and on the South Boston Waterfront. In all of those places, Shen says, the city ought to be focusing less on the skyline and more on creating livelier parks, sidewalks, and retail districts. That challenge, he adds, is particularly important on the waterfront, where new residential and office buildings are rising rapidly. “We have to make sure that the aesthetic is not determined by those private buildings,” he says, “but by the quality of the streets and open spaces.”
In coming months, Shen says, the BRA will also make a stronger push to develop more moderately priced housing, for families as well as young singles willing to cram their lives into 400 square feet or less. “Instead of just micro units, what about innovation in family housing as well?” he asks.
Kelly Saito — president, Gerding Edlen
For decades, Boston’s apartment market didn’t always offer renters much in the way of modern comforts. Most buildings, constructed in the mid-20th century or earlier, came with drafty windows and inefficient heating. Finding a place with storage space and a bike rack was considered a coup. Kelly Saito and his development company, Gerding Edlen, have made a big bet that Boston’s renters want something new. It is building hundreds of apartments with efficient layouts, energy-saving electrical and heating equipment, and amenities ranging from outdoor fire pits to yoga lounges to dog parks. “We’ve adopted a goal of trying to make buildings that are not just better for tenants but also for their neighborhoods,” says Saito. “Our challenge, and our opportunity, is to make cities attractive to people and build a product that serves them.”
Gerding Edlen opened its first building in 2014 at 315 A Street near Fort Point Channel, and it has two others in development on New Street in East Boston and at the corner of Albany and East Berkeley streets in the South End. The company is also negotiating a partnership with developer John Rosenthal to build a large complex of apartment buildings across from Fenway Park.
Its units do not come cheap — a 460-square-foot studio at 315 on A goes for about $2,800 a month — but the company is among those working with the city to build more moderate-income housing in outlying neighborhoods.
HENRY FORD WOULD BE AMAZED
Saks is selling clothes in Somerville and people are sipping cocktails on the banks of the Mystic River. It would be hard to imagine a greater real estate transformation. After countless delays, the developers of Assembly Row made good on their promise last year to revitalize the huge site of an old Ford Motor Co. plant that closed in 1958. Now it’s home to 32 stores and 12 restaurants (above), plus a movie theater and Legoland.
In addition to creating a new destination for shoppers and diners, Federal Realty Investment Trust also signed a blockbuster deal for a new Partners HealthCare headquarters there. Oh, and Assembly Row saw the arrival of a new T station and hundreds of apartments — not a bad year.