How Boston's busiest architects are transforming their city

At a meeting in early 2007 in Fort Point, Boston, where the architecture firm was headquartered Elkus Manfredi ArchitectsCo-founder and director Howard Elkus welcomed developer Ori Ron to discuss his residential conversion plans for the old Dainty Dot factory building on the edge of Boston’s Chinatown. Ron carried several brands of water bottles, from blunt plastic from Poland Springs to cylindrical glass from Voss.

“Let’s imagine every water bottle is a building,” said Ron. He placed it on a table between Elkus and himself, making sure to end up with the Voss bottle. “I want you to build this type of building.”

Elkus laughed. “You challenge me,” replied the veteran architect, whose firm at the time had designed dozens of projects in the greater Boston area and around the world. “You know what? I know where you’re from.”

It was Voss. Seven years later, in February 2014, Ron’s Hudson Group North America began leasing its building at 120 Kingston, now called Radian Boston. True to its geometric name and the 2007 brainstorm, it was cylindrical and glassy, ​​and quite large for Boston: 27 floors with 240 luxury apartments starts at $ 2,960 per month for 4,500 square feet of retail studios on the ground floor.

It was the newest debut of the newest project for the most productive architecture firm in Massachusetts. In 2012, when extensive data was available last year, Elkus Manfredi had $ 37,731,000 bills for projects in the Commonwealth, most of it in the greater Boston area. The company also had 66 architects registered in Massachusetts. With both measures, they were way ahead of the next largest company, CBT Architects, with bills of $ 32,800,000 and 51 architects in the state.

The scope of this activity is more than Elkus Manfredi’s activity: large and often large. This scale has put the company’s work at the center of the fierce debate over density and altitude in the area, particularly in Boston, a city whose goal is to be a global capital of biotechnology and technology and a pioneer in crispy urban planning, the mile-long area includes bike paths and acres of pedestrian-friendly spaces. It is also a city that is plagued by one notorious housing shortage, with rents at Manhattan-like highs and sales prices rivaling San Francisco’s.

Projects like Radian Boston aim to alleviate this shortage by providing fresh supply, which in turn can meet Boston’s demand for housing and therefore theoretically at least lower housing costs. Building such projects remains a challenge, however, thanks to the often Byzantine zoning requirements and a feature that seems unique to Boston in the midst of America’s largest subway areas: relentless resistance to the construction of tall and dense buildings, even in urban cores .

“I’ll define Elkus’ job almost impossible as a mission“Said Ron, announcing the technical, zonal, and economic challenges of high-profile building in Boston.” If anyone is ever able to build anything substantial under these conditions, they should be applauded and greeted. “

[A rendering of Sepia, part of the Ink Block project. Rendering by Elkus Manfredi Architects.]

Elkus Manfredi has been able to build quite a bit since it was founded by Howard Elkus and David Manfredi in 1988. Here are just a few of the most recent projects planned or ongoing: the 471-unit ink block in the South End, which includes Sepia Boston 83 condos; the 290-unit Van Ness near Fenway Park, which will also have a significant amount of office space; the $ 950 million expansion of TD Garden, the arena where the NBA Celtics and NHL Bruins play (the tallest building there will be 600 feet, making it one of the steepest in Boston); Boston Landing, the multi-faceted project that includes 250,000 square feet of headquarters for sneaker giant New Balance, a 175-room hotel, and three office buildings; and the renovation of an old courthouse and prison in the eastern part of Cambridge. (Gensler Architects took over the TD Garden project in March 2014.)

It is the final project that perhaps most clearly demonstrates the challenges of building in the greater Boston area. The plan is to redevelop the building into 22 stories with apartments, offices and shops extending over a length of about 300 feet (Cambridge, like neighboring Boston, suffers from a lack of housing due to student demand, which makes rents and prices unusual stay high).

[A rendering of the New Balance Headquarters complex at Boston Landing. Rendering by Elkus Manfredi.]

Well-organized opponents, including members of Cambridge City Council, want the building no taller than the existing 80-foot zone for the area and cite concerns that it might not be to scale. In other words, they want a cap on the proposed tower that makes it much shorter than the tower that has been there since the early 1970s. They see their opposition as a way to undo a real estate mistake in an otherwise low neighborhood.

The founders of Elkus Manfredi are diplomatic about such challenges. You are talking about “public room” and “City of neighborhoods“And reacting to it and sticking to it instead of working something too new out. This worldview rounds off the boundaries of the opposition. It is more about context than complaint, and it offers a very different perspective on the opponents of building in Boston.

“I’m making a small exception to ‘mission impossible’,” 62-year-old David Manfredi told Curbed. “In Boston a lot is developed by many good customers, good developers, good institutions and good architects.”

Getting the co-founders over for an interview proved difficult given their schedule. While Elkus Manfredi dominates the recent architecture of the greater Boston area, the company also operates globally, from the new City Hall in Las Vegas to Russia’s Sochi Grand Marina, a project tied to the recent Winter Olympics. Howard Elkus and David Manfredi spoke to Curbed by phone at two different locations: Elkus from his home in Palm Beach, Florida, near where he was meeting with a customer; and Manfredi of Fort Point on the fast-growing South Boston boardwalk. The couple are the co-CEOs and their directors of the company along with Elizabeth Lowrey, Samuel Norod and John Martin.

Elkus and Manfredi met in the 1980s at Architects’ Collaborative, a pioneering Cambridge-based company founded in 1945 by Walter Gropius, a pioneer of both modernist architecture and collaborative design. The couple have forged countless connections over the decades with business and political leaders in the region, as well as academic institutions such as MIT and Harvard. The Boston area can be a small city with a relative handful of developers doing most of the larger projects. Connect with a few and you’ve connected with most of them.

Developers bear the brunt of the test that is carried out on their projects (regardless of financial risk), a test that their preferred architects rate as generally positive. “It clearly prevented,” said Manfredi, “that the city is sometimes overbuilt and the kind of ebb and flow you see in other cities.” In short, after the real estate bankruptcy, Boston didn’t become Miami, a city full of unsold condominiums and stranded cranes. It and the surrounding communities such as Cambridge and Somerville remained characterized by low housing stocks and fierce competition for real estate.

If anything, according to the architects, the slower, more conscious pace of development can be traced back to the desire Integrate projects into the entire cityscape. Boston, Cambridge et al. Want their new homes and offices to blend in with their surroundings, including historical aspects of one of America’s oldest urban areas, and be bike and pedestrian friendly. Public spaces such as squares or small parks are often a must in various plans. Otherwise, locals and elected officials expect them to connect to the existing open spaces. Experience Radian Boston’s marketing, which makes up much of its location on Rose Kennedy Greenway, the ribbon of parkland that runs through the city.

“I’ll almost define Elkus’ job as an impossible mission.” ?? Ori Ron

The Arlington is another Elkus Manfredi project that was developed jointly with the affiliated companies and designed and initiated by the convention group. The recently unveiled 128-unit, pet spa, and one-bedroom luxury apartment tower starting at $ 3,200 was carved from a building constructed in 1927 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which is not an uncommon fate among Boston real estate.

“We wanted to keep many of the building’s historical details, but also wanted to create a luxury residence,” said Patrick Sweeney, a senior executive at Arlington developer The Related Cos. Elkus Manfredi described Elkus Manfredi as “super responsive” during the development process. The architects worked the make-up of the existing building into the final product, for example by placing a basketball court in one of the basement rooms.

This keeping the context could ultimately be Elkus Manfredi’s design mode in the greater Boston area. None of her works – commercial, private, academic, or a mixture of the three – is particularly irritating. No Gehry-like cuts or crumbs or blocky monoliths a la Le Corbusier. Instead, the company’s designs tend to be sleek and clean, like the Radian or hardly noticeable from the outsidelike the Arlington. At the same time, architects in the greater Boston area are forever changing the architecture of the area due to the size of the projects they are working on. They applaud the exam that brings.

“Many of our projects involve significant urban design,” said 75-year-old Elkus. “And as urban planners, we always consider the context and the relationship with our work and its surroundings. And that was also a priority for the city.”

120 Kingston Street, Boston, MA