Boston—The newly opened Charlesview Residences development, designed by CBT Architects, signals a bright new day for long-time residents of the structure it supplants, the dilapidated, 42-year-old Charlesview Apartments in Boston.
The Charlesview Residences, designed as replacement housing for the 200 former residents of Charlesview Apartments, is comprised of two projects. Brighton Mills is set on 7.93 acres, and Telford Street on about three-quarters acre. Together, the communities offer 240 rental units and 100 ownership units. More than 90 percent of the apartments are designated affordable.
To grasp the Charlesview story, it’s necessary to travel back in time to the early 1970s, when leaders of a synagogue and two churches founded Charlesview Inc. with the goal of obtaining a HUD Section 8 contract to build the original Charlesview Apartments. The development was built and opened in 1971.
Almost from the start, Charlesview Apartments was plagued with problems resulting from a substandard foundation pour. “There were some issues with the initial construction,” CBT Architects principal architect Christopher Hill tells MHN.
“The foundations were not sound, and within 10 years problems resulted. They did remedial repair and patch, but the ground continued settling.”
The Charlesview Trust determined it would not be cost effective to undertake the work needed to fully rehabilitate the community. Doing so would necessitate loans, resulting in rents being raised beyond levels residents could afford.
“The trust approached Harvard University about possibly taking over the property and helping Charlesview find a new home,” Hill says. “It would be a land swap, with Harvard receiving the property and giving Charlesview a piece of its land to develop replacement housing.”
CBT Architects became involved in 2006, began testing sites, and eventually the Brighton Mills and Telford Street locations were chosen.
The firm filed its first planning document with the city of Boston in 2009, construction began in November 2011 and the development was finished in July of this year.
A number of obstacles arose along the way. The original Charlesview structure suffered from shifting vertical plates that sheared utility lines and led to rodent and insect infestations. Still, many residents didn’t want to leave. Those who did wanted the new Brighton Mills building to be a fortress, while Brighton Mills officials and residents wanted smaller buildings and more open space, Hill says.
The latter course was adopted. Brighton Mills features 25 buildings, with a mix of townhouses, row houses and mid-rise buildings. On the site, which had been filled by a large discount retailer, CBT Architects restored a network of narrow neighborhood streets that had existed before the retail establishment was built.
“The project became less identifiable as, ‘There it starts and there it stops,’” Hills says. “Given the attention to the historic street grid, it just kind of blends.”
Have former Charlesview Apartment residents warmed to the new Charlesview Residences? Many have, based on the fact the new apartments are larger and brighter, and are close to public transportation, shopping and dining, Hill says
“I think everyone’s happy,” he concludes.