An Urban Take on Affordable, Luxury Lofts

By Candice Chandler

Boston, Massachusetts is a city that has thrived since the formation of this nation, and with residents flocking to find affordable yet unique dwellings to call home in the urban area, DHK Architects, Metric Corporation, and Biltrite Construction have developed a unique and affordable proect.

Located on the western edge of Boston’s South End, The Modern is a two-phase, 62 unit condominium project that has brought new vitality to Boston. The project was built over a period of 6 years, including a hiatus of about 2 years during the difficult market standing in 2008 and 2010. Today the project is fully sold and occupied.

“The project is complete and totally sold,” explained Fernando J. Domenech Jr., FAIA, LEED AP, President of DHK Architects, Inc. “The Modern contains a total of 62 units, of which 25 were developed in the first phase, The Modern 1.0, and 37 in the second phase, The Modern 2.0”

The project is located in a transition area between the South End and Lower Roxbury. It presented an opportunity for the developers to bring the market some well-priced units for the segment of buyers just coming into the real estate market. Directed towards a more affordable niche of consumers, The Modern offers Bostonians an alternative to typical multifamily developments.

The underlying reason for the two-phase development lies in the ownership of the original parcels. The first phase of The Modern was built at the site of a former parking garage, demolished to make way for construction, on an approximately 6,000 square foot lot while the second phase was built on an 8,500 square foot piece of land formerly owned by the City. The latter was part of a developer request for proposal issued by the City and awarded to the developers.
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“The project is in the ‘protection area’ of a historic landmark district. However, the prevalent character of the area in particular was somewhat eclectic, some if it even industrial in its look and original function. While the prevalent residential typology of the South End is the townhouse, the building program called for greater density to accommodate multiple floors and be more in the tradition of an apartment building,” stated Domenech.

The buildings are steel frame construction on six floors, plus a penthouse. The building code allowed for the construction of habitable space on a seventh level under the classification of “penthouse,” and excluded from the building height calculation.

Consequently, the maximum 70 foot height, after which the building would get classified as a high-rise, was available for the use of the six stories, while the penthouse level could exceed that threshold. The street level contains units facing the street front, and an enclosed and covered parking area in the rear.

This parking area consists of spots for stacked cars, utilizing a motorized unit to lift cars to the upper spots. Access to the parking is via an alley along the side of the first phase building. The exterior of both buildings utilizes a silica block masonry unit — in this case Arricraft — in various tones to establish a base and a body to each of the buildings.

The architectural treatment, while very similar in the use of color, materials, widow proportions, balconies and other elements, is not exactly the same for both buildings, making them more like “cousins” than “twin brothers.” A band of metal panels and a sunscreen above accentuate the top of the building, giving residents an alternative to entertaining outdoors. In addition, The Modern has amped up the neighborhood in significant ways.

“The project has done several things to this neighborhood,” said Domenech. “First, the Northampton itself went from a desolate quasi-industrial area to a residential street, and this has been very positive for the whole neighborhood. The project, because the unit square footage was maintained reasonably tight, presented an opportunity to sell units at a very reasonable price point. In these two respects, the developers attained considerable achievements.”

The combination of both buildings displays elements that are at times individual, and at other times shared. In the individual category, each building has a separate address and a separate entry to the access lobby and elevator/mail lobby. Each building has its own trash room/recycle room, and its own mechanical systems.
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In the shared category, the parking area for both buildings is accessed through a single entrance located in the first building and a common deck. The roof level is open to both buildings. Furthermore, one of the two means of egress in the second phase uses the egress stair in the first phase.

The building lobbies, while compact, are well designed and full of natural light. The corridors are enhanced with bright-colored carpeting and attractive lighting. The units of the first phase were conceived as lofts, with exposed mechanical systems and concrete floors. During the construction and marketing a slight reinterpretation took place and some lower-than-ceiling partitions were erected to demarcate rooms.

Some of the units of the first phase are located on the corners of the building, abutting the side alley. They partake of double exposure, making them especially light-filled and airy. The units on the second phase were conceived more in the manner of standard apartments, with finished floor and ceilings. Units on the penthouse — the term used was “skyhouse” — showcase wonderful views east and north to the Boston skyline.

“The Modern 1.0, the first building, is smaller and has three exposed sides to it. It does not use any bay windows, as many units have two exposures. The units in The Modern 2.0 are more typical apartment units, with a single exposure, and thus this side of the complex uses bay windows along the front. The two buildings are blend seamlessly in terms of height, façade treatment, masonry opening size, and building materials. However, they are not exact replicas of each other,” explained Domenech.

Kitchens are open to the living spaces providing a more informal and open setting between these and the living and dining zones. All units have at least 10 ½ foot ceilings adding that special sense of openness and spaciousness to all the areas of inhabitation whether for entertainment or relaxation. Of the 62 units, 10 were designated artist work-live units and provide at lower cost to this segment of the community under the ageist of the city of Boston’s program for artist housing.

The Modern was also designed and constructed utilized Energy Star guidelines and sustainable technologies. Although 1.0 and 2.0 aren’t certified through an outside party, its design had energy efficiency in mind, giving consumers an affordable way to go green.

“The building has a number of green features, even if it is not certified by any program,” said Domenech. “These include the use of and energy efficient, tight building envelope (wall construction and windows), the use of highly efficient mechanical systems, the use of water-saving plumbing fixtures, and the use of high recycled material content in the carpeting, roof decking and other building products.”

Boston has been a staple in regards to cities across the country, and their rich history has now been complimented with a smart, efficient, and affordable project geared towards giving the public a costeffective twist on luxury living. Although the downturned market stunted the development, its completion marks a returning effort to producing unique and tasteful options to potential residents residing in the city.

Candice Chandler is an assistant editor of Builder and Developer. She may be contacted at cchandler@penpubinc.com.

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