Something Old, Something New

Two buildings — one renovated, the other new — acknowledge the historic industrial character of Boston's Seaport District.
August 11, 2010

A respectful marriage of old and new elements earned a Merit Award in BD&C's 21st Annual Reconstruction & Renovation Awards for a pair of buildings that constitute the first phase of Channel Center in Boston.

The two — 35 Channel Center, a five-story, 103,000-sf renovated warehouse that contains 44 loft units, and 25 Channel Center, a 13-story, 184,000-sf new building with 76 units — are primarily residential condominiums, with retail space at street level.

They constitute the first phase, or about 20%, of a planned development by Beacon Capital Partners that will occupy six acres over four city blocks. The development will ultimately encompass the renovation of 11 existing buildings and the construction of three new structures, including two mid-rise office buildings. The five- to seven-story warehouses, constructed between 1912 and 1922, are among the last remaining brick and timber structures near the Boston waterfront. The project is located in the burgeoning Seaport District, a short walk from Boston's new convention center.

The historic flavor of the existing buildings and their surroundings were uppermost in the minds of architects at Boston-based Bruner/Cott & Associates as they designed both the renovated and new structures.

For 35 Channel Center, the challenge was literally to design a new building within the framework of an existing one, while still maintaining the integrity of the old structure, says Bruner/Cott principal Daniel Raih.

"The day is long gone when you could just sandblast one of these buildings, put up drywall partitions, and call it a living unit," Raih says. "We're now dealing with seismic upgrades, crucial acoustical treatments, and a higher level of comfort expectations."

The designers chose not to conceal any of the existing structural components, instead exposing most of the columns and beams, while relegating new partitions to a background role. The brick firewall that divided the warehouse was retained. Building-related mechanical apparatus and fire doors were among other original features retained.

 
35 Channel Center and 25 Channel Center are located in the former warehouse district, which is now undergoing major redevelopment.


"We avoided blocking windows and made sure that any mechanical components did not cover brick arches," Raih says. "At any point in the building, either in the public space or the apartments, the existing structure is celebrated as the main architectural expression."




The warehouse's original floors were a problem. They didn't meet current acoustical requirements or recently toughened seismic requirements, and they also incorporated asbestos paper.

The floors are now 8–10 inches thick. In addition to a new, two-inch concrete topping, they incorporate two layers of insulation and, on the underside, two layers of gypsum board. Since the gypsum board thus became the ceiling of the floor below, it was covered with pine panels that were stained to match the wood structural members.

A respectful new neighbor

The new structure, 25 Channel Center, was originally conceived as an office building, but that plan was abandoned when the high-end Boston housing market took off. The design team then had to adapt an office-type plan for residential occupancy.

Central to this transformation are two-story-high living rooms that are a feature of more than half the apartments. They let natural light penetrate more deeply into the structure — an important consideration because the apartments are deeper than they are wide.

With large windows and a brick gridwork covering more than half its façade, the new building echoes the look of neighboring warehouses. Even the black metal framing of the apartment balconies recalls the fire escapes attached to the old warehouses.

 
Brick-exterior details help the new 13-story 25 Channel Center blend in with neighboring buildings, including the five-story 35 Channel Center.


"Rather than bringing in a new aesthetic, we picked up from what was existing," Raih says.




In the last 20 years, he notes, many formerly industrial areas on the periphery of cities have become much more desirable places to live. Raih sees this project as a case study in how contemporary conveniences and systems needed to provide a quality residential experience can be achieved in old buildings.

The challenge, he says, was "to find new ways to build within these buildings that that did not destroy what was there, but rather enhanced it."