ICON’s Kendra Halliwell featured in Banker & Tradesman

ICON’s Kendra Halliwell was featured in this week’s Banker & Tradesman, where she discusses one of the firm’s latest projects in Charlestown, The Graphic Lofts. To learn more about what Kendra had to say, including information on the largest modular housing development in Boston, see below!


To view the full article on the Banker & Tradesman website, click here.


Designing Housing for the Way We Live Now


By: Steven Adams


Kendra Halliwell designs residential spaces reflecting 21st-century living arrangements, from artist lofts in Jamaica Plain to repurposed industrial spaces near the Orange Line in Charlestown. A 20-year employee at Boston-based Icon Architecture, Halliwell is working with Berkeley Investments on a signature project in Sullivan Square, redevelopment of the Graphic Arts Finishers’ property into 171 apartments. The project is the region’s latest to incorporate modular construction techniques to save time and development costs.


Q: How did Berkeley Investments’ development plan for the Graphic Arts Finishers property in Charlestown come into focus?


A: The property is about an acre in size and when we started looking at it, [we looked] at everything. We even looked at taking down the Graphic Arts Finishers building, but since it has such a great presence on the street we decided to play that up and make that the centerpiece and entrance to the site. It has huge windows and really laid out well to become apartments. The windows are one of the most unique features. When we designed the new building, we designed it to complement the historic building with a similar industrial aesthetic. One of the things we carried across both buildings is the large windows.


Q: When did you decide to go with modular construction for the new construction?


A: That was a decision early on. The developer came to us with that proposal and we were pretty excited about it. The idea was to save time. Of course, time is money. The basic concept of modular is you can be building on the site, getting everything ready while your finishes and your kitchens are being put together somewhere else. It really does save time in construction and the goal is expediting the process. In theory, if everything moves smoothly you should be able to save three to six months when you build modular.


Q: Do you prefer designing new buildings or doing adaptive reuse projects?


A: It’s been interesting working on this project in particular, because we do have both. Every project and every building is different. In adaptive reuse, you have something to start with: “these columns are great, we love the brick in here, let’s use the elevator shaft for the mailroom.” You start looking for things and you can take clues from what’s there. With new buildings, you can start from scratch.


Q: Why hasn’t modular construction taken off more quickly in Greater Boston?


A: Now that I’m working on this project, more people are coming to me with questions. We’re hearing much more interest across the board from owners, developers and other architects. There’s a real opportunity here and we’re trying to figure it out.

It’s a new technology, and in New England, we tend to be cautious about new technologies. We don’t have a modular factory nearby, and there’s sort of a catch-22. Because we don’t have a factory nearby, we can’t get the work. In order to have a factory, they would have to have five years of work lined up, and you can’t get that until you have a factory. But I have some hope we can figure it out.


Q: What are some of the unusual requirements you’ve been given designing artist live-work housing?


A: I’ve probably done more art live-work projects around the area than anyone else. We’ve done eight over the last 15 years or so. Those have been everything from an adaptive reuse, usually because we use an old mill building. You go in and say, “Do we have ways to get light and air? Do you need special sound separations?” One interesting project I did was a grouping of old factory buildings, the Brookside in Jamaica Plain. We had a trapeze artist who needed a 35-foot-high space. We had an artist who was a chef and a musician, so he needed sound separation. There was a woman who was a chef and a printmaker and a taxidermist.


Q: What have your own living spaces taught you about residential design?


A: I live in a little townhouse from the 1880s and I’ve owned it for about 10 years. It’s hard to make decisions in my own space, but designing for other people, it’s important to have options. That’s the main goal. You don’t know if someone is going to have a dining room table, or a TV. Nowadays with new technology, you just have to allow for flexibility.


Q: What does the city of Boston’s pilot compact living program mean for designing more flexibility into residential?


A: I was at a housing innovation workshop last week at the Boston Society of Architects, and our group was talking about how we solve the housing problem here in Boston. The mayor has called for 69,000 units by 2030 and we were trying to figure out what problem to take on.

Everyone doesn’t have to live in a two-bedroom house or apartment. Not everyone wants a big yard or garage or to shovel snow. You can reduce the cost of housing if people understand there are efficient ways to live, whether it’s moveable furniture or sharing equipment. You could borrow a vacuum cleaner, just like ride-sharing. If people can look at a shared space and come together as a community, that can help bring the cost of housing down.


Q: What’s the key to getting buy-in from the community during the public engagement process?


A: We do a lot of public meetings and there’s been more of a movement lately in support of building housing, because people are becoming aware of the problem. We’re all seeing the cost of rental housing go up. Living in Jamaica Plain, there’s both a movement for affordable housing and also a concern about maintaining the neighborhood character. And there’s a challenge there. Those two aren’t always together. I’m doing several projects in my neighborhood, but they’re all sensitive to the neighborhood, ranging in size from 4 to 6 stories. They’re close to the train. It’s the way we should be building now.



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