Reframing Boston’s History Through Sustainable Design

Kicking off the organization's annual conference, Urban Land Institute members unveiled innovative communities in some of the city's oldest neighborhoods.
The Distillery Project

This year in Boston, Urban Land Institute (ULI) brought together real estate professionals for its annual fall meeting. To open the conference, ULI members representing architects, developers, property managers and financiers toured two new communities in South and East Boston. In both The Distillery North apartments and Maverick Landing, innovative design solutions are impacting the way residents experience some of the city’s most historically rich neighborhoods.

Climate resiliency

Located at 526 E. 2nd St., The Distillery Project comprises a former distillery building, newly completed apartments called the Distillery North and a planned building called The Distillery West. It houses 28 apartment units, with zoning allowing up to 65 units. The rehabilitated distillery now houses artist live-work spaces. 

Once completed, expanded sustainable features will include an expanded central lawn, greenhouses and 200 more solar PV panels, in addition to the existing 100. The development’s location places the community at high risk of flooding, due to rising sea levels and extreme weather impacts, making it ever more important to build to the highest sustainability protocols. For this reason, the community’s parking garages are sacrificial, meaning they contain no electrical or mechanical equipment that would be damaged by flooding.

Technical solutions

Luckily, Second Street Associates Principal Fred Gordon, who purchased the distillery in 1984, has always been passionate about environmentalism and the arts. “Most people in the environmentalist movement didn’t know how to drive a nail. My view was that, to tackle environmental problems, you need technical solutions,” Gordon said, referring to his initial goal of reducing the building’s energy use by 65 percent. These sentiments informed the vision behind the community, which meets the intensive Passive House standard. Such developments are meant to use around 10 percent as much energy as conventional buildings. 

Fred Gordon, Nancy Ludwig

This is Fred (Gordon’s) vision. He received no subsidies, and his firm is the equity partner,” noted Nancy Ludwig, president of ICON architecture, the company that built the apartments and will lead the development’s next phase. Among the obstacles in this undertaking was managing time- and cost-exhaustive zoning regulations, which are notably challenging in Boston, Ludwig added.

Public-private partnerships

The largest LEED-certified multifamily community in Boston, Maverick Landing is a redevelopment of a public housing project in East Boston. “Built in the 1940s, it’s essentially the ‘Exhibit A’ of public housing developments. It cut off (the neighborhood’s) access to the waterfront,” explained James Keefe, principal of Trinity Financial, the community’s sponsor. Keefe’s firm received a $35 million HOPE IV grant from HUD to demolish the buildings and rebuild them

Maverick Landing

The key wasn’t just to build something new but to replicate something that was old,” said Keefe. To this end, the marketing took on a nautical theme as a nod to the area’s waterfront zone, which was once a hub of industrial activity. The redevelopment also did away with dumpsters, instead empowering neighbors to manage the housekeeping task on their own. Individual entry doors on the community’s townhouses are also meant to offer residents a sense of identity, security and price.

Maverick Landing

Community safety

Located at 31 Liverpool St. near the Maverick MBTA metro station, the 396-unit community enjoys quick access to downtown Boston. Maverick Landing also includes a park and a church, aimed at fostering a sense of community. Putting narrow, one-way streets throughout the community was particularly difficult, Ludwig recounted, involving lengthy negotiations with the Boston Fire Department.

Ultimately, Keefe explained, the narrower streets promote life safety and enable larger outdoor spaces, an added benefit for residents: “We put the one- and two-bedroom units into mid-rise buildings, which hadn’t been done before, so that we could put the larger units for families on their own lots.”