CASE STUDY: COTE TOP TEN WINNERS
Those who know developer Tim Pappas speak highly of him. Pappas, CEO of Pappas Enterprises, has done much to earn their respect, most recently in the development of the Macallen Condominiums in Boston. The building, which is the first residential LEED Gold-certified building in New England, is the subject of a documentary, The Greening of Southie, which presents the struggles that the developers and crew faced in realizing a green building in conservative South Boston. In a telling scene from the film, an experimental non-toxic glue has failed, causing freshly installed bamboo flooring to warp and buckle. The wood has to be replaced, and Pappas asks, “How much oil was burned bringing this ‘renewable’ wood to Boston?” The moment shows Pappas’s attention to detail, his eagerness to develop new sustainable design techniques, and his holistic view of green architecture, all of which are manifested in the Macallen condos.
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People are taking notice of Macallen for good reason. The wedge-shaped building is vaguely reminiscent of a doorstop whose lower side is angled down toward Dorchester Avenue at the south end. At its highest point—the 11-story north facade—Macallen provides expansive views of downtown Boston. The innovative building consists of 144 residential units of varying sizes, with retail space on the ground level. It uses 30 percent less energy and 600,000 fewer gallons of water per year than a comparable but traditionally constructed building.
An irregularly shaped site forced Boston-based design architects Office dA to develop a complex structural strategy. The result was a system of staggered trusses that allowed for expanses of over 60 feet of open, flexible space; the layout ranges from studios to lofts to three-bedroom units. “We had to develop a customized zoning strategy,” says design architect Nader Tehrani. “It became a tower at one end and a row house on the other.”
The disparate heights of the north and south facades are unified by Macallen’s most striking feature: a sloping green roof. In addition to allowing the southern façade to conform to height regulations, the roof is oriented toward the sun like a solar panel. The angle benefits the rooftop garden and enables the existence of numerous large terraces than would otherwise not be possible. The roof’s incline allows gravity to carry rainwater to tanks, which recycle it for irrigation. The green roof also insulates the building, reducing the “heat island” effect created in cities. As with any rooftop flora, the drought-resistant native sedum plantings and soil absorb excess runoff and reduce the toxicity of water that filters through.
Much of the building material is renewable (bamboo floors and wheat-board cabinets) or recycled (nearly all of the structural steel and aluminum cladding). Brises soleil on the glass curtain wall reduce heat gain, saving energy in the summer, as does heat-recovery ventilation in the winter. Steven Brittan, of Burt-Hill, the architect of record, calls the building innovative in philosophy and attitude. “We didn’t really take a conventional approach to the project—we didn’t follow the LEED checklist. It was a comprehensive strategy.” Such emphasis was put on air quality, for instance, that smoking was forbidden during construction, and unit owners have signed documents preventing them from lighting up—even inside their condos.
In being awarded one of 10 AIA/COTE awards, Macallen received special recognition for excellence in community design. According to Tehrani, “The notion of smart growth was at the center of developing this site,” which is located in an area zoned for industrial use, amid highway on-ramps, railroad tracks, and a bus yard. Tehrani and his team had to convince the mayor’s office, the Boston Redevelopment Authority, and community development corporations why it made sense to erect condos along what he calls “the remains of an old industrial highway . . . in a no-man’s-land among differing conditions.”
The COTE jury saw the virtue in building residential on the site as well. Council member Marvin Malecha noted, “This project was built on an environmentally challenged site that was previously unused space. Not only does it enhance the environment, but it provides valuable inner-city housing.” Beyond turning a once-industrial site into an icon of sustainable building, the site is within walking distance from downtown Boston and immediately next to a subway station. COTE juror Rebecca Henn said Macallen is remarkable in that it “is a developer building and as such represents an important step for speculative development.”
Macallen’s team intended their building to be didactic, bringing progressive development to a socially and architecturally conservative part of the city. “It’s about changing the mind-set of not only architects but also the users and the contractors of the building,” says Steve Brittan. “If there’s any victory, it’s that.”
And there is some evidence that it has changed minds—or at the very least, it is an early exemplar of a growing trend in Boston. A 2007 amendment to the city’s building code mandates that new projects over 50,000 square feet be LEED-certified. “What was innovation three months ago is common practice today—and that’s fantastic,” Brittan says.
Project manager Ed Bourget sees Macallen as proof that a green development can be a profitable and striking piece of architecture. Nader Tehrani agrees and hopes that beyond the accolades, Macallen “will lead to real innovation.” Eventually, he says, “we’ll realize how basic a building Macallen is.”
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