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39850 Architecture Boston, Dri-Design Adobe Ad.indd 1 10/13/16 11:08 AM
The City of Bostons first comprehensive plan in
50 years sets a target of 53,000 new units of housing
by 2030. Can we achieve this goal?
In this issue, ArchitectureBoston opens a toolkit of ways
to challenge the rules and shake up the status quo.
KYLE NELSON is an illustrator and art director at Stoltze Design.
PREVIOUS PAGE Development, Amy Casey, 2010, Acrylic on paper, 10" 10". Image: Courtesy of the artist
In 1892, architect Arthur G. Everett designed himself a rambling 2-story Victorian house on Chestnut Hill Avenue. He lived there with five members of his family and two servants. By the 1970s, Everetts house had four units; later, two additional units were added six perfectly service-able units in the place of one. The density of additional residents gives vibrancy and vitality to the neighborhood.
Boston has 15,000 triple-deckers. They have many common elements. Imagine streamlining a permitting and contractor trades program called Three + One, developing design templates for easily adding one more apartment to these buildings (adjusting zoning and building ordinances as necessary). Investing in existing dwellings stabilizes them while making them more useful. We would get to 53,000 new units less expensively, more quickly, and much more sustainably. Adopting this vision, we could easily zoom right past that ambitious goal.
THE CONVERSION CALCULATION by Daniel Bluestone
DANIEL BLUESTONE directs Boston Universitys Preservation Studies program and inhabits the former living room and parlor of a 1911 apartment in The Norma, subdivided in 1957.
Great expectations are greeting Bostons commitment to increasing the housing supply by 53,000 units by 2030. Affordable-housing advocates see stabilized rents. Community leaders anticipate stemming gentrification and preserving neighborhood heritage. Architects and planners see venues for transit- oriented development; innovations in energy and infrastructure sustainability; tests for new building materials; and new designs, like micro units for Boston millennials. Developers envision streamlined permitting and burgeoning opportunities on city-owned lots made available for new housing.
But something is missing. Surprisingly, the effort fails to promote the creation of additional units within existing buildings. With new units in multiple- family housing often costing more than $400,000 each, we should be looking not at new housing to solve the supply and affordability crisis but at existing buildings.
Think about it. Boston has thousands of dwellings that already have roofs, walls, founda-tions, and utilities in place. All we need is to settle on economical, sustainable, and elegant ways of adding apartments to these buildings. Most of our housing units were produced for households far larger than those currently occupying them. The average occupancy in a Boston dwelling is 2.49 residents. With increases in single, elderly, and millennial households, Mayor Martin Walsh anticipates fewer than two residents per new unit. Why build from scratch when we can simply create new units within existing walls?
Although we dont pay nearly enough attention to the precedents, they are all around us. J. E. Barlow & Companys Brighton row house development, at Commonwealth Avenue and Wallingford Road, is one. In 1909, Barlow built 50 two-story brick row houses. Each had a kitchen, dining room, parlor, and hall on the first floor, with four bedrooms and a bathroom above. In 1917, one owner installed a bathroom on the first floor, converting his house into two apartments. Others soon followed suit: Several conversions came in the 1920s; the most recent was in 2012. Some carved three units out of the houses; two doctors and a dentist created live-work spaces with residences above ground-story offices. Today, only 22 houses have not been converted; there are 86 units in the place of the original 50.
Getting to yes | AT ISSUE
A BASE FOR THE FUTURE by Alexander DHooghe and Aaron Weller aia
The development model for new housing has become shortsighted. An increased demand for housing, particularly in urban areas, has created a marketplace with little or no risk, high returns on investments, and a priority on condominiums with inflated price tags.
With many Greater Boston municipalities grap- pling with rent destabilization and a lack of housing diversity, what can result when housing development is viewed as a long-term investment? How about the concept of solids, coined by Frank Bijdendijk, a former housing czar in the Netherlands? The concept continues the structure-infill ideas outlined by another Dutch architect, John Habraken, in his 1961 book Supports: An Alternative to Mass Housing.
Solids are flexible and durable buildings that allow an investor to model economic viability over a long period. In contrast to selling fast and building cheap, a durable building is constructed with materials and details that age well and thus accrue value over time. Plus, a flexible building can accommodate changes in lifestyles or even uses, yielding profits over multiple generations.
Such a building think of the Roman basilica type or industrial-era warehouses requires higher initial investments than is currently normal, which can be offset if operating costs are low and by separating permanent or collective elements from temporary or individual ones. The initial investor of a solid building constructs the base elements (load-bearing structure, access and circulation, roof and exterior faade, common services and amenities),
and the fit-out (partitions, finishes, fixtures, and so forth) is determined and paid for by another investor: the inhabitant.
The division between permanent and temporary elements results in a housing typology unlike todays developments. One example is Solid 11 in Amsterdam (2010), designed by Tony Fretton Architects for the Dutch housing commission. The client required that its main building components have a 200-year life span, with a floor plan that could change according to user needs. More recently, our market building in Brussels features a double-height structure that can be filled internally with mezzanines or expanded vertically with additional floors.
The conventional building template consists of towers rooms, units, or offices built of steel or wood-frame structures above a concrete podium for parking, storage, cultural amenities, and commercial retail. The tower and podium are effi- ciently organized for particular uses, with every space programmed and compressed to maximize rentable or resale square footage. Ceilings are low, walls abundant, and windows correspond precisely to interior arrangements. In the future, it will make more sense to demolish and rebuild these buildings rather than adapt and reuse.
Solids, on the other hand, are not towers built on podiums but sustainable shells with generous floor-to-ceiling heights, open floor plans, long structural spans, high load-bearing capacity, and large mechanical and circulation areas. The spatial quality of solids is akin to the industrial warehouse that has successfully morphed into mixed housing. Unlike older buildings, solids are not a finite resource; they marry a durable, flexible building type with a development model that is economically feasible in the short and long term.
Imagine housing that provides a stable residence for precarious millennial or immigrant workers within open floor plans, movable partitions, common services, and shared resources; or multifamily units that adapt to changing tastes, growing families, or an aging population. Could light, clean industries, maker spaces, or live-work arrangements exist alongside, above, or below? Municipalities should invest in base buildings as long-term public assets that help resolve affordable-housing shortages today and who knows? can segue into an alternative use that meets a future need.
ALEXANDER DHOOGHE is founding partner of org Permanent Modernity and associate professor in architecture and urbanism at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. AARON WELLER AIA is a licensed architect at org Permanent Modernity.
AT ISSUE | Getting to yes
THE LEVEL OF THE LAW by Jerold S. Kayden
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is one of the nations leading courts in finding rights in the state constitution before they are found in the federal constitution. One need only reference Goodridge v. Department of Healths (2003) conclusion that barring an individual from the benefits of civil marriage solely based on sexual orientation violated the state constitutions requirements of due process or equal protection. It is time for someone to put before the court the possibility that a suburbs unwillingness to zone enough land for development of multifamily housing affordable