Dorchester is Boston’s largest neighborhood and one of its most diverse. In July 2013, the Four Corners commuter rail station opened in the Mount Bowdoin section of the neighborhood, setting in motion plans to bring more transit-oriented buildings to Dorchester. Among the first projects to meet this goal is the AB&W Building, a mixed-use facility located about one block from the Four Corners station.Originally built in 1918 as a car dealership that sold Model T’s, the building has become a neighborhood icon. Therefore, even though the goal was to create an active center that connected tenants and others with the new commuter station, Project Architect P. Nicholas Elton, AIA, a partner in Elton + Hampton Architects, Roxbury, Mass., still desired to connect the new development to its surroundings as much as possible. “The intention was to create a development that was a little denser than the rest of the neighborhood but still respected and tried to be a little like the neighborhood,” he says.
To achieve this, the decision was made to maintain the front façade of the original building and integrate it with all new construction. Elton used specific building materials to pay homage to the surrounding area. For example, a yellowish brick on the front of the new second and third stories of the AB&W Building mimics the brick used on the 1930s-era building across the street. The addition of fiber-cement and corrugated-metal siding breaks up the enlarged AB&W Building’s scale so it better fits in its location.
Elton, who is a fan of corrugated metal, decided also to have some fun with the material, flexing it in unusual ways for overhangs above windows and doors. “When you start using materials that you are using on the walls on the roof, then you get to play a little game,” he says. “The material will come down a wall and wrap into the roof; there are a lot of materials you can’t do that with but you can when you use corrugated.”
It took a team of three metal fabricators from Lancaster Enterprises Inc., a family roofing business in Dedham, Mass., to carefully curve and flex the corrugated metal to meet Elton’s specifications. Meanwhile eight to 10 of the metal fabricators’ colleagues were installing a watertight TPO membrane on the AB&W Building’s six newly constructed roofs.
OLD BECOMES NEW
Elton + Hampton Architects concentrates its work on what the firm’s partners—Elton and Bruce M. Hampton, AIA—refer to as socially relevant projects. The firm almost exclusively works with non-profit organizations on affordable housing and housing for special populations, as well as community-resource buildings.
The 32,096-square-foot AB&W Building features 24 affordable-housing units, primarily rentals with a few coop ownership opportunities, and 3,300 square feet of ground-floor retail space. One retail space is an art gallery and there currently are conversations to merge the other two retail locations for a restaurant specializing in Caribbean cuisine.
PHOTOS: Grieg Cranna