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Casting A Critical Architectural Eye On Boston's Building Boom11:47

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The Kensington apartments and Millenium Place condominiums, behind, tower over Chinatown at the intersection of Stuart, Kneeland and Washington streets in this 2013 file photo. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)closemore
The Kensington apartments and Millenium Place condominiums, behind, tower over Chinatown at the intersection of Stuart, Kneeland and Washington streets in this 2013 file photo. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Boston is experiencing one of the most rapid booms in construction in decades. There are roughly 70 projects under construction throughout the city, according to the Boston Redevelopment Authority. It's hard to miss the cranes dotting the skyline.

But how do these new designs look to a trained, critical eye?

Josh Slater, an architect and principal partner at Boston-based Studio 3.0, accompanied us on a driving tour of several of the city's developments.

Hear the Boston Redevelopment Authority's perspective on development in the city below:

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Stop No. 1: The Kensington

The Kensington, at 665 Washington St. (Hadley Green for WBUR)
The Kensington, at 665 Washington St. (Hadley Green for WBUR)

At this 27-story, high-end apartment building on Washington Street in Downtown Crossing, rents range up to $10,000 a month for a two-bed, two-bath unit.

Josh Slater: It's exactly as anonymous as you're describing and I think that's part of the problem, is that it doesn't recognize itself as anything.

...

I don't know if this is the final iteration of what's going to go in there but it appears like it's primarily just designated for the residential building.

I think it's essential if you're going to create a large development in the center of an urban neighborhood that you create an active first floor where you're providing amenities such as restaurants, such as shops that would be good for the neighborhood as a whole.


Stop No. 2: Millennium Tower

Millennium Tower, at the old Filene's basement site (Hadley Green for WBUR)
Millennium Tower, at the old Filene's basement site (Hadley Green for WBUR)

Just down the street is one of the most anticipated buildings going up, the tall Millennium Tower, on the site of the old Filene's Basement building.

Josh Slater: It’s hard to know right now, as it’s only really in the early stages of construction. With that said, based on what we’ve seen so far, the glass facade, which can be detailed in many different ways, seems to be really elegant. The architect seems to be very cognizant of how to detail glass.

...

I think overall the development on the whole is a very positive thing. Downtown Crossing specifically is a neighborhood that’s been in need of this kind of development for some time. The fact that we’re doing not just buildings, but buildings of considerable scale, I think is a positive thing.


Stop No. 3: The Seaport District

The Vertex pharmaceutical building, in the Seaport District (Hadley Green for WBUR).
The Vertex pharmaceutical building, in the Seaport District (Hadley Green for WBUR).

Josh Slater: Well fundamentally this is a neighborhood that was for the longest time essentially a large parking lot, or at least it felt that way. There were a few warehouse mill buildings on Summer Street. But the area directly abutting the water was essentially not used at all. The fact that we have this kind of building going on overall for the neighborhood is a great thing.

...

If you look around from where we’re standing, it looks effectively like it could be Any Office Park, USA. There’s no definition whatsoever.

And this is part of the issue in Boston in general, we seem to have this knack for creating relentlessly B- architecture. Everything is sort of OK, but nothing is exciting. Also we should note that of these buildings some of these are actual office buildings, others are residential, and you can barely differentiate between the two. And we should say this isn’t complete yet, so I’ll reserve some judgement for when it’s all done.

With that said it seems like many of these projects are ignoring the streetscape, ignoring the pedestrian ways, ignoring the way the average person walking around would use the public space.

The Seaport District (Hadley Green for WBUR)
The Seaport District (Hadley Green for WBUR)

Stop No. 4: The Bruce Bolling Building

The Bruce Bolling Municipal Building, in Dudley Square, in a file photo (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The Bruce Bolling Municipal Building, in Dudley Square, in a file photo (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The building, named after the late city councilor, is located in Roxbury's Dudley Square. It's the new headquarters of Boston Public Schools.

Josh Slater: It’s a beautiful building on a lot of levels and you can see how it's both respectful of the existing neighborhood and context, but also takes some of those cues and does a very modern take on it that’s really successful.

...

It’s also important to note in the context of other things we’ve seen today in terms of the role of development as a whole, typically you wouldn’t expect a municipal building to be the catalyst for a new neighborhood the way that, for example, a multi-use building might be with the active ground floor that we’ve talked about. Here I think partially because of the success of the design, this is seen as that catalyst for this area.

Architect Josh Slater stands in front of the Bruce Bolling Municipal Building, home of the Boston School Department. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Architect Josh Slater stands in front of the Bruce Bolling Municipal Building, home of the Boston School Department. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

2 Other Developments We Have Our Eye On

Traffic en route to Boston on the Mass Pike passes the New Balance building at Boston Landing in Allston. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Traffic en route to Boston on the Mass Pike passes the New Balance building at Boston Landing in Allston. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
What used to be The Boston Herald in the South End is now the Ink Block apartments on Harrison Avenue. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
What used to be The Boston Herald in the South End is now the Ink Block apartments on Harrison Avenue. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

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