A Former Church Is Reimagined as Condos in Boston’s South End Neighborhood

condos former church

One’s home is an oasis from the hustle and bustle of commitments and work responsibilities. It’s a safe haven from the elements and a space to nurture one’s family and immerse oneself in hobbies that feed the soul. In Boston’s South End neighborhood, developer New Boston Ventures LLC quite literally sought to make home a heavenly space by redeveloping the 1871 German Trinity Catholic Church into 33 high-end condominiums.

New Boston Ventures and its team tested the boundaries of modern engineering by building an 8-story vertical addition through the area in which the 1871 German Trinity Catholic Church's roof had been, ultimately creating 33 high-end condos.

New Boston Ventures and its team tested the boundaries of modern engineering by building an 8-story vertical addition through the area in which the 1871 German Trinity Catholic Church’s roof had been, ultimately creating 33 high-end condos. PHOTO: Anfuso Imaging

After making a promise to the seller—the Archdiocese of Boston—that the church would be saved (something New Boston Ventures intended to do anyway), the team set out to test the boundaries of modern engineering by building an 8-story vertical addition through the area in which the church’s roof had been. “Modern structural engineering being what it is and the construction budget that we had really allowed us to do almost whatever we wanted, which was quite remarkable,” explains Marc Savatsky, LEED AP, CSL, development project manager for New Boston Ventures.

Named for a street that no longer exists—Lucas Avenue—which ran parallel to the church when it was built, The Lucas was completed in 2017 and sold out before construction ended. This is a testament to New Boston Ventures’ unique vision, which may have been executed with some divine intervention.

A Building within a Building

Boston’s South End is known for the historic character of its buildings, something that drew New Boston Ventures to work in the area, rehabilitating brownstones and other historic buildings into condos, the past 25 years. Because the South End is a desirable area of Boston and land is scarce, New Boston Ventures’ representatives jumped at the opportunity to buy the German Trinity Catholic Church. “We saw potential immediately in the church,” Savatsky explains. “It had a great structure to it. Some features of it actually lent itself nicely to our condo vision, and we had a team of very talented architects at Finegold Alexander who helped us really start to picture what this might look like and helped us study it in terms of programming so we had the confidence to pursue it aggressively.”

The church’s shell primarily is comprised of Roxbury puddingstone, a local sandstone, featuring granite pebbles and quartz fragments, that has morphed into a strong material that can be used for construction. Many of Boston’s historic buildings feature walls and/or foundations of Roxbury puddingstone because it often could be excavated directly from the building sites. Because of puddingstone’s innate strength, the church’s structure was in good condition. Savatsky notes the team only had to complete some selective repointing and wash the masonry fac?ade, which was done in a historically sensitive manner.

Knowing volume had to be added to the space, New Boston Ventures worked with Finegold Alexander Architects, Boston, on a vertical glass addition through the existing roof—a modern interpretation of the church’s original design. Boston-based McNamara Salvia Structural Engineers determined how to leave the four walls of the original building standing while essentially blowing out the roof. The team then built four levels of living space within the frame of the original church and added four levels of living space within the glass curtainwall where the roof had been. “The glass curtainwall is supported on a structural steel frame,” Savatsky explains. “That frame carries down to its own foundation system that we added within the shell of the building.”

Boston-based McNamara Salvia Structural Engineers determined how to leave the four walls of the original building standing while essentially blowing out the roof.

Boston-based McNamara Salvia Structural Engineers determined how to leave the four walls of the original building standing while essentially blowing out the roof. PHOTO: New Boston Ventures

The design team picked up on the rhythm of the church with the addition of flying buttresses and vertical fins, which follow the symmetry of the original masonry piers below.

Because the team added floors at each of the levels in the tower, they needed to make a connection between the new building and the tower rooms.“To breach the 2-foot-plus-thick Roxbury puddingstone wall, we engaged a firm called Pro Cut to do the concrete cutting for us. The machinery they used to cut through this wall was incredible,” Savatsky remarks.

The construction team also came up with unique ways to provide seismic support to the existing building. For example, the large turrets on the four corners of the tower were carved out of limestone. Modern building codes require these decorative elements to be reinforced. “We, along with our structural engineers, came up with a very surgical approach to drill on the vertical, down through the top and into the structure of the building,” Savatsky explains. “Then we drilled and then doweled and epoxied pretty significant threaded rods into the top of the turrets such that, in the event of an earthquake, these turrets wouldn’t have any risk of toppling.”
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Modern Marvels

The city of Boston has strict requirements for energy efficiency, and New Boston Ventures seeks to meet these requisites and then some. The firm has a HERS rater on its team, who goes through its redeveloped buildings doing blower door tests, studying ductwork and ensuring the mechani-
cal systems are efficient. In addition, New Boston Ventures has found an energy-efficient small-duct heating and cooling system it prefers to use in historic buildings, including The Lucas.

The four floors of living units created within the original church structure offer arched windows with custom glass enclosures.

The four floors of living units created within the original church structure offer arched windows with custom glass enclosures. PHOTO: Anfuso Imaging

“When we’re working in historic buildings, often it’s the case that it’s difficult to get traditional HVAC runs through your space without having to add soffits or drop ceiling heights,” Savatsky notes. “We like to specify a high-velocity HVAC system that utilizes 4-inch, flexible duct runs so we can run in between joist bays. The holes that are required to run them perpendicular to structural elements are small enough that we can typically even drill out engineer joists to accommodate running the ductwork in any direction needed. This gives us great ceiling heights. We don’t need to add soffits, which are undesirable. The system provides fantastic, even distribution of heating and cooling. It throws the air in such a way that makes the entire space feel comfortable.”

Maintaining comfortable temperatures within the building also required tinting of the glass used in the vertical addition. “The tinting of the glass is something we studied at the outset with our mechanical engineer and during our energy mod- eling,” Savatsky says. “I think some of the design review folks want that very clear glass, but you want to find the happy medium and I think we struck that quite well where the glass took some of the solar gain out but also it gave us that rich look we were going for.”

Before the church was sold to New Boston Ventures, the archdiocese removed religious artifacts, as well as almost all the windows. The Lucas’ new windows were custom fabricated to fit within
the existing masonry openings. The arches were particularly challenging to match and had to be field templated.

Three prominent historic windows remain above the front doors of the original church structure. These windows feature elaborate tracery elements. “We were able to salvage those and restore them in a historically sensitive manner,” Savatsky notes.

The Lucas was a complicated project and took approximately one year and seven months to complete. However, there was never a point the team lost confidence in its vision. “We had a great construction team at Metric Construction and, even though it was complicated and sometimes trying, I think that no one ever lost focus on what we were trying to achieve,” Savatsky recalls.

Today, the transformation is one that makes the entire team proud—and one the homeowners love. The building offers the owners many modern amenities, including a fitness center, dog wash, club room with an outdoor kitchen and parking in the basement using vertical car stackers. Savatsky was part of the project from acquisition of the church until the day the condo owners showed up in moving trucks. He says working on The Lucas was “an incredible experience.”

In the new addition, larger more modern units offer floor-to-ceiling curtainwall glass.

In the new addition, larger more modern units offer floor-to-ceiling curtainwall glass. PHOTO: Anfuso Imaging

Savatsky adds: “Being able to execute a vision that I think may have escaped a lot of our competitors who were looking at the church at the same time was really rewarding. I think it’s fun to reimagine the old and put a modern spin on it, and I think we did justice to this gorgeous late-1800s design with what we did to the building.”

Retrofit Team

DEVELOPER: New Boston Ventures LLC, Boston
ARCHITECT: Finegold Alexander Architects, Boston
MEP ENGINEER: WSP, Boston
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: McNamara Salvia Structural Engineers, Boston
INTERIOR DESIGN: Wolf In Sheep Design, Boston
GENERAL CONTRACTOR: Metric Construction, Boston, metriccorp.com
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT: Michael D’Angelo Landscape Architecture LLC, Boston
ROXBURY PUDDINGSTONE CUTTING: Pro Cut, Waltham, Mass.
HVAC INSTALLER: Back Bay Mechanical, Stoughton, Mass.

Materials

GLASS CURTAINWALL: Kawneer
SMALL-DUCT HEATING AND COOLING SYSTEM: Unico Inc.

About the Author

Christina A. Koch
Christina A. Koch is editor in chief of retrofit.

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