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Architect: Canopy Would ‘Severely Compromise’ Wilkes Passage Design

The architect behind Wilkes Passage sent a letter to the Landmark Commission outlining his opposition to the building's proposed canopy.

The following is the three-page letter sent from Doug Dolezal, the architect who designed Wilkes Passage, to the South End Landmark District Commission stating his opposition to the Washington Street condo building’s recent proposal to install a canopy at its main entrance. The proposal was voted down Wednesday by the commission.

Dear Commissioners,

My office designed Wilkes Passage Lofts, and I am writing to oppose the current application for the addition of a new canopy at the building’s main entrance. I oppose the application for the following reasons:

The proposed canopy will not function as intended.

I believe the design goals presented by the applicant are not successfully resolved by adding an entrance canopy to the building, and I believe there are other solutions that could better address the concerns, especially for people with physical disabilities.

The canopy that was originally proposed to the commission in May 2011 extended from the front door to the curb’s edge, but at the January 2012 hearing the canopy was reduced to only a six-foot projection off the building’s main façade.

While both options might provide some limited shelter from adverse weather at the sidewalk, neither option provides any significant protection, especially at the curb while loading vehicles on Washington Street (in particular, when this involves a person with disabilities who would also require a wheelchair to be folded and stored in the trunk of a car/cab).

Perhaps a better solution would be to allow vehicles/cabs to enter the building at the main garage, and then drive to the interior loading area where any residential owner can travel from the main entry/elevator lobby to the fully protected garage area.

In this scenario, a disabled person can freely travel to a waiting vehicle/cab where they can load and unload items from the trunk of a car, unencumbered by wet weather. Since this protection is only required during adverse weather conditions, this would not be the primary pedestrian loading area for any resident.

Also note, Wilkes Passage has a fully protected, 400-car parking garage where all residents can access the building’s interior to make drop-offs from a private vehicle, so this is a limited problem that only occurs when a resident is using a cab or other driver services during adverse weather. This is one possible solution that addresses the accessibility issue without modifying the exterior entrance.

The design of the Wilkes Passage will be severely compromised by the proposed canopy.

One of the most prominent elements of the building’s design is the main elevation that runs the full extent of Washington Street.

The new design was inspired by the historic building that originally occupied the site before it was demolished in the 1950s. “The Continental” had a monumental, white marble façade that was distinctive and unique to the neighborhood.

Wilkes Passage also treats the main façade as a unique element, distinguished by color and materials as well as by design.

Above the main entrance, the façade is “folded” to mark the change in Washington Street’s geometry, to mark the intersection at Rollins Street and to mark the main building entrance (at this location, the main façade breaks free from the building and creates an entrance canopy above the front doors).

This is an important and highly visible design gesture that functions at the urban level, at “scale of the street,” as well as functioning at the pedestrian level, at the “scale of the human,” where the profile of the metal channel is revealed and the finger-joints of the masonry are exposed

The proposed canopy would dramatically district from these elements and conceal these important details.

I understand the goal of the commission is to protect the design integrity of all buildings within the South End district, not only the historic buildings but the contemporary buildings as well.

I believe that the commission’s “Standards and Criteria” should “protect and retain” these “significant design features” since they are an essential part of the building’s overall design.

Wilkes Passage has received several Boston Society of Architects (BSA)/American Institute of Architects (AIA) design awards and deserves to be protected.

All buildings must evolve over long periods of time to meet the changing needs of the users who occupy the building. In this case, however, the addition of a new canopy does not satisfy this criteria and modifications to the building compromise quality.

Wilkes Passage has been recognized for “design excellence” by the BSA and received a BSA/AIA Design Honor Award in 2007; in 2006-2007, it also received a regional design award from the New York Chapter/AIA and the BSA/AIA for Housing Design Excellence; and from 2004-2012, it has been a nominee for the BSA Harleston Parker Medal, a prestigious award from the Boston Society of Architects.

These noteworthy awards, combined with other citations for excellence in craftsmanship from the Masonry & Brick Industry Association, all ascribe to the overall integrity and merits of the quality design.

Residential entries along Washington Street aren’t typically marked with canopies.

During the design review for Wilkes Passage one of the more important features discussed by the commission, the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) and the Boston Civic Design Commission (BCDC) was the “folding façade” above the main entrance.

It was mentioned that most of the large, historic, residential buildings along Washington Street don’t have features that announce the residential entries. Instead the entry doors are discretely located between commercial spaces or located away from prominent corners.

It was an important design objective to have Wilkes Passage follow this precedent set by the historic buildings.

After much discussion, the final design that was supported by these various commissions incorporates an understated covered doorway (or canopy) that is derived from, and integral to, the “folding” of the masonry façade above the entry.

The proposed canvas canopy is an “additive element” that is not distinctive or integral to the building, and it detracts from the original design intentions carefully reviewed by the various commissions during the two-year design process.

The proposed canopy overhangs the property line into the public domain.

As a matter of practice, all buildings and building elements (such as an entrance canopy) should be fully contained within the property lines.

City and state regulations do not allow any private building to occupy public land or space. This could only be allowed after special consideration and permitting by various city and state regulatory boards.

If the canopy is modified to legally comply with the regulations, it must be reduced from its current dimensions with a six-foot cantilever, to a smaller canopy with a one or two-foot cantilever. This would alter the canopy’s form and further reduce any functional attribute.

Conclusion

As an architect, I respect and understand the challenges encountered with each application and the importance of working to find a fair and reasonable solution to each problem.

In this case however, I fell a new canopy addition will not work with the existing building, especially where there is already a protected covering about the main entry.

I am also concerned about the precedent that could be set for approving canopy additions at other multi-unit residential buildings

Wilkes Passage is not different from other buildings or townhouses in the South End that require people to leave the front door of their home, exposed to the rain or snow, in order to catch a cab – and the proposed canopy does not improve the identity of the building.

I appreciate the work of the commission, thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Doug Dolezal
Principal, Dolezal Architecture and Interior Design
Designer, Wilkes Passage Lofts

JMc February 17, 2012 at 09:17 PM
Anything that could soften the eyesore that is Wilkes Prison would be welcome...

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