REal Estate Today: Local architects design unique JP commercial buildings

March 21, 2008
By

MICHAEL FAHEY


Artist rendering by studio g architects
In the works of studio g architects is an environmentally friendly, mixed use development at the corner of Centre, Wise and Lamartine streets.

Jamaica Plain has a rich architectural heritage. In addition to many different forms of residential architecture, including Georgian mansions, roomy Victorians and more modest Cape Cod style homes, a wide variety of commercial buildings reflect JP’s diverse and changing business community.

Three local architectural firms are playing prominent roles in designing new residential and commercial buildings as well as retrofitting the area’s business spaces for new uses.

While the local firms—headed by Scott Payette, Ed Forte and Gail Sullivan—are active throughout the region and take on jobs as distant as California, their principals agree that there is something especially satisfying about working on a project that will be seen daily by their friends and neighbors.

TV Studio

Payette, a principal in the Centre Street-based firm Payette and Associates, provided the design that has radically transformed a Washington Street building from an abandoned and moldering MBTA electrical substation into bright, airy studios and office space for cable access provider Boston Neighborhood Network (BNN).

The project began three years ago when BNN-TV and local nonprofit developer Urban Edge bought the building, which had been idle since the late 1980s when the old elevated Orange Line was relocated. The idea was to provide BNN with new facilities while helping to revitalize the Egleston Square area.

The exterior of the building retains much of its original appearance. “We were asked to create a vibrant and high-tech television studio while keeping the historic exterior,” says Payette, who lives in JP.

Originally, the three-story building housed four enormous dynamos, electric generators that converted alternating current to direct current to power the trains on the old Washington Street elevated line. It has two large windows at either end and a churchlike entryway, providing a solid but inviting presence.

Unfortunately, the years of abandonment had taken their toll. Thieves and vandals had stripped the building of anything salvageable and flocks of pigeons had left their filthy marks on the building’s exposed brick walls. In addition to an industrial-strength cleanup of the interior and exterior, new side windows were added for additional light. The first-floor media lab and conference room were designed with floor glass partitions to enable natural light to radiate throughout the building and to promote interaction between staff and visitors.

A floor was added, creating a double-height space for the second floor TV studios. The original metal roof trusses and wood deck were left exposed. Light wells were created at the ends of the building to admit more natural light, and to accommodate an existing crane that had once been used to replace spent turbines. The National Park Service, which provided some funding for the project, stipulated that the antique equipment be preserved. In a recent Boston Sunday Globe Magazine piece devoted to the building, architecture critic Robert Campbell praised Payette’s work “as one of those small gems of architecture that too often go unnoticed.”

Other Payette projects include the Mount Pleasant Home addition and renovation on S. Huntington Avenue and the Harvard-affiliated Immune Disease Institute.

Office Building for Nonprofits

Farther south at 3313 Washington St., next to Ruggiero’s Market, is a very different type of building designed by Ed Forte of Forte Architecture + Design. Rather than rehabilitating an existing structure of historic and architectural significance, Forte’s task was to come up with a cost-effective design for a new office building.

From the beginning, his client, Jack Realty LLC, a company of JP’s Walker family, which owns the office building at 555 Amory St., made it clear that close attention to the bottom line was of major importance in order for the project to work. Forte’s solution was to design a hybrid building made of metal, brick and glass.

The use of a prefabricated metal framing system and industrial—rather than architectural—metal cladding from Houston, Texas-based Metallic Building Co. helped to hold down costs, Forte said, while the use of brick, glass, metal cladding to sheath the exterior provides a sleek and handsome building that in no way appears “prefab.”

The metal panels are placed vertically rather then horizontally, which is the norm in metal building construction. This, as well as the use of custom trim strips that enhance the finish quality of the metal paneled areas and use of exposed fasteners, adds to the building’s smart but functional look.

The building materials, including the use of metal are in keeping with those of other buildings along that portion of Washington Street, which has been zoned for light industry.

“The owner is quite happy with the building,” said Forte, who achieved his goal of providing an attractive building with low ongoing maintenance costs at a price that made the project possible. The building, which has nonprofit tenants, including ESAC, has also been recognized by the construction industry. The year it was finished, Metallic Building Co., manufacturer of the metal system it incorporates, named it one of its top buildings, and it has been featured in industry publications.

Other JP buildings Forte has worked on include Bella Luna/Milky Way Lounge and Lanes, Pondview Nursing Home, 157 Green Street, Jamaica Plain Auto Body, Ethos’ office expansion and various storefront designs with the Boston Main Streets program.

Green Mixed-Use

Longtime JP resident Gail Sullivan, who lives in Forest Hills and practices out of an office on Boylston Street in the Brewery Complex, has designed a number of buildings in Jamaica Plain. The project that is most on her mind at present, as president of studio g architects, is a mixed-use building being developed by her office landlord, the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation. The environmentally friendly structure at Centre, Wise and Lamartine streets in Jackson Square will be a mixed-use building with retail and office space at the street level and affordable housing on the top three levels.

The building, due to start construction later this spring, stands across the street from the Bromley-Heath Housing Development, an earlier and, Sullivan said, architecturally problematic attempt at affordable housing. Sullivan said current designs try to stay clear of the mistakes made when large high-rise housing developments were seen as a viable way to provide affordable housing.

Too often, she said, huge projects turned their backs on the city streets and isolated residents. “We have a chance to provide a major change from the Bromley-Heath style project. This will be a very urbanist, pedestrian-friendly area near public transportation.”

And, she said, it will provide a link between Hyde Square and the new Jackson Square.

The project will provide connections to the surrounding areas, she said. Two south-facing patios will reach out to the Southwest Corridor Park. The design of the Lamartine Street side of the development also features a patio that could, for example, be used by a new restaurant. Facing Jackson Square, the building will have a curved bay, above which is the prow of a vegetative roof.

Vegetative or “green” roofs use low-maintenance plants to capture storm water and keep buildings cool and improve air quality. The latter is of particular importance because the surrounding community has a high incidence of asthma, Sullivan said. The building will also employ passive solar heating strategies.

Sullivan has also done architecture work for Copper Beech Montessori, Bikes Not Bombs and various JP planning projects.

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