BUILDING 149 AT THE NAVY YARD, CHARLESTOWN, MA 1986

While writing a retrospective blog covering 50 years of the firm’s projects could be considered an act of “navel gazing,” this week’s post is really about the design and engineering of a new window to replicate 2000 historic industrial steel sash in Building 149 at the Navy Yard in an adaptive re-use of the structure. A couple of letters can make a big difference. Before we learn more about the windows, let’s start with a little background on the overall project.

LOCATION AND HISTORY

Building 149 at The Navy Yard was built in 1917 according to the plans of an unknown architect for the United States Navy. It was originally a six story structure expanded to eight stories in 1918. By 1919, the open end of the u-shaped original structure was enclosed with a ten story addition. Its primary purpose was the storage of common navy stores, including clothing, provisions, and hardware. During World War II, more than 2600 people worked inside the building. Next-door was another warehouse structure, Building 199 that was built in 1945. The Charlestown Navy Yard is the permanent home of “Old lronsides,” the USS Constitution. Established in 1800, the navy yard was the primary location for the construction, repair and re-fitting of U.S. Navy ships. De-commissioned in 1974, the Charlestown Navy Yard is now a designated historic district and was the largest historic restoration project in the nation at the time the project was undertaken in 1984.

DESIGN CHALLENGE

The Charlestown Navy Yard is a 130-acre commercial, residential and recreational development located on Boston’s historic waterfront. The BRA plan laid out the districts as shown in the above plan with the Historic Monument Area designated for development with a focus on preservation, and the New Development Area reserved for new construction of housing, hotels, and other uses. As a continuation of our relationship with The Congress Group, coming on the heels of Riverview and One Memorial Drive, we were tasked with a renovation that involved the adaptive re-use of Buildings 149 and 199, combining them into a single 1.3 million square foot mixed-use facility. The design challenge was to transform the historic warehouses into up-scale marketable office space without affecting their industrial character. Designed utilizing the National Park Service Secretary of the Interior Historic Preservation Guidelines and the local direction of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, Building 149 now houses 700,000 square feet of office and retail space, and a 1,360-car parking garage was created in Building 199.

As part of the revitalization plan of the Navy Yard, the buildings have been opened to the public by introducing a pedestrian passage through Building 149, connecting one of the entrance gates to the compound and the main east-west roadway, First Avenue.

DESIGN SOLUTION

The buildings’ industrial character was maintained on the exterior, and attention was given to preserve the existing shape of the structures. The exterior facades of both buildings were completely restored. Existing loading docks were transformed into terraces and pedestrian walkways lined with landscaped planters, and covered with a glass canopy similar to the one that originally surrounded the building. The buildings have exposed concrete frames with brick and glass infill. The new office use necessitated lowering the height of the existing brick spandrels, thereby improving the proportions of the openings and increasing the amount of glass. See before and after photographs below.

Left: Before. Right: After.

THE WINDOW SOLUTION

The existing steel windows on Building 149 were seriously deteriorated and could only handle single glazing, which would not meet the energy code. This deficiency presented a unique opportunity to explore a new window technology, a task undertaken by the collaborative team of owner, architect, construction manager, window contractor and manufacturer, along with the National Park Service. Multiple aluminum window systems with true divided lights of insulated glass were developed and tested to visually replicate the profiles and sizes of the original steel sash windows. The break-through window system created by Custom Window Company of Colorado was subsequently marketed nationwide for use in historic buildings. A vinyl-coated metal mesh was used to “glaze” the windows in Building 199 (the parking garage) to create the visual effect of a traditional industrial window while meeting the ventilation requirements of the garage. This window’s design and engineering was so significant for historic preservation efforts that it garnered a full article in the January 1988 Architectural Record and a Preservation Tech Notes published in December 1986 noting “The window work at 149 Constitution Park represented a significant improvement over past attempts to recapture the distinctive qualities of a steel industrial window with narrow-bead glazing bars using an aluminum replacement system with insulating glass.”

January 1988 Architectural Record (Click to enlarge).

Right: NPS Tech Notes. Left: Custom Window Ad. (Click to enlarge)

A new steel and glass elevator tower was built and attached to Building 199, capturing a spectacular harbor view from the glazed elevator cab. Four renovated footbridges link the two structures and provide direct access from the skyways to the office spaces.

INTERIOR DESIGN

The massive size of Building 149 (445 feet by 190 feet) demanded a design solution that introduced natural light into the interior and resolved complex circulation problems caused by the building’s length. Daylight penetrates into the center of the building through two atria. The west atrium was an existing space that was rehabilitated while the east atrium was cut out of the existing structure. This unique space exposed the supporting columns and concrete frame and created bay windows, balconies and planters. Lighting was designed to emphasize the sculptural quality of the structure and highlight the new interior elements and finishes. Natural and artificial lighting in combination with lush plantings and new finishes creates a grand interior space.

Cut away model showing the two atria and three cores.

Left: West atrium before. Right: West atrium after.

Left: East atrium before. Right: East atrium after.

I have always thought that these before and after pictures of the two atria really tell the story of the interior, especially at the East Atrium, which involved extensive demolition and reconstruction to make a pleasing design that solved the planning problems of way-finding and of getting natural light deep into the building.

The office building has three elevator cores, each with access to approximately 25,000 square feet of flexible office space. A pedestrian mall at the ground floor level joins the two main entrances at opposite corners with retail and restaurant tenants along the path.

SUCCESS OF THE PROJECT

Buildings 149 and 199 have been recognized with numerous awards. The International Masonry Institute called it, “…extremely knowledgeable and discreet intervention in the life of the building which was not a distinguishable building to begin with….the architects are to be congratulated for exemplary work.” Remodeling Magazine gave it a Grand Award and the judges noted, “This project took guts.” The development of this huge amount of space in an area that still seemed somewhat remote from downtown did indeed take guts. Check out the guys with the guts below. That is Frank DiMella and Rem Huygens on the right, with Ed Barry and Stephan Coyle, BRA Director on his left in the center, and a young Dean Stratouly and Richard Graf on the far left. The others I don’t recognize.

Fortunately, the Medical Research Division of Massachusetts General Hospital became the prime tenant and leased 350,000 square feet. I believe that they now occupy the whole building, making One Forty Nine at The Navy Yard one of the largest and most prominent biomedical research facilities in the United States. Interestingly, the building almost became home to The New England Design Center through a joint venture with The Merchandise Mart. Inc, Chicago as the co-developer, as evidenced by this rendering in our files.

As I noted earlier, this was the largest historic preservation project in the nation at the time, and it was a significant step for the City of Boston and the redevelopment of the Charlestown Navy Yard.

In 1989 the project was featured in an exhibit at the Cyclorama called Remaking Boston sponsored by the Boston Center for the Arts, The Boston Preservation Alliance, and the Boston Society of Architects celebrating architectural excellence in the reclaiming of historic buildings. Amir Mann, the project manager with an out-sized personality for Huygens and DiMella, was interviewed in Art New England as part of the exhibit and commented, “What excites me about the Remaking Boston exhibition are the stories. We are closing and opening a new paragraph in the history of these buildings, each with its own story of how we came to this point. It was a moving moment for me when I came to the 149 Building at the Navy Yard and saw it vacant and falling apart, and sitting lonely in the rain. We brought this building back to life.”

He went on to sum up the experience this way: “This is where I see the innovation in preservation. The reality is that most of these buildings are modified for a new use. That’s the innovative moment when the architect can contribute something of his own, a statement of our time. And I think there is a learning process in doing that. It takes learning the past of the building and making it right for the present use. In doing so you can perhaps foresee the future.”