WINNER: Reservoir Place, Waltham, MA
When the professionals at Boston Properties Inc. – one of the largest owners and developers of Class A office properties in the United States and a proponent of long-term ownership – seek to acquire a building asset, they have the insight to recognize its possibilities and the vision and commitment with which to maximize its value. Add customer savvy to the mix, and the result is a product that meets and exceeds market expectations.
Today, in the Boston suburb of Waltham, MA, such market expectations have turned from hope to reality. Through meticulous planning, innovative design, and perceptive marketing, Boston Properties – with the assistance of the architectural design team ADD Inc, Cambridge, MA – has repositioned a tired, uninviting property into a dynamic, distinctive destination: Reservoir Place.
Located just 12 miles from Boston and highly visible from the city’s major high-tech/business highway, Route 128, Reservoir Place is considered one of the most desirable sites in the suburban Boston office market. When Boston Properties purchased the property in late 1998, it contained two connected buildings and underground parking with 775 spaces, as well as 1,070 surface spaces. The smaller building to the south, which contains approximately 163,000 square feet of space on three levels, was constructed in 1955 and renovated in 1983. The three-story main building, added to the site in 1987, contains approximately 368,000 square feet of space. A welcome boost to the location was an adjacent 73,000-square-foot building at 170 Tracer Lane, already owned by Boston Properties.
The existing buildings had all the advantages of a key location, as well as on-site ATM, postal services, security, and more card-accessible covered parking and surface parking than any other property in the area. However, neither building had been significantly renovated in recent years, and the outdated, 1980s-style design – with terra cotta quarry tile, red oak, and oil-soaked bronze hardware finishes – garnered, at best, mediocre reactions.
In the relatively early years of ownership, Boston Properties undertook improvements on roofs, washrooms, mechanical systems, and other infrastructure elements. “[That time] also afforded us the opportunity to better understand the asset,” recalls Michael Cantalupa, senior vice president of development at Boston Properties. “The more time we spent with it, the more it became clear to us how we should reposition the property – and the work we did was a total property repositioning, as opposed to just relying on physical improvements.”
Bryan Koop, Boston Properties’ senior vice president and regional manager, concurs with this assessment, adding, “When we looked at Reservoir Place, we asked ourselves, ‘What is a long-term viewpoint on this property?’ In stepping back, we realized this asset had a tremendous amount of amenities – all under one roof, unlike anything currently available in the Boston suburbs – that hadn’t really been articulated well to the market. We realized we needed to expand that amenity package and make the facility understandable to the consumer.” An aggressive three-year renovation program to update all common areas and atriums ensued.
As the largest multi-tenant office building on Route 128, Reservoir Place consistently supports 50 to 60 tenants with approximately 1,000 to 2,000 employees. A primary design goal was to create an updated and inviting environment for numerous tenants and their visitors, as well as a cohesive campus environment and synergy between the existing office buildings.
“Our property management team has a tenant association where they stay in touch with the users: They meet regularly and talk about project activities,” explains Koop. “Reservoir Place is a real working community. What we found is that the users (there’s a large population of tech and entrepreneurial firms here, as well as branch offices for large corporations) liked a more modern architecture, as opposed to the more traditional ‘New England’ materials frequently used.”
Discussions continued between Boston Properties and architect ADD Inc about what Reservoir Place could be. “Together, we determined what we could do to change the identity and character of the entire campus – to better reflect how the tenants were already using the asset and their goals for the future, as opposed to the typical ‘Gee, this is worn out; let’s replace it,’ ” says Wayne S. Koch, AIA, principal at ADD Inc and project executive.
Three disparate buildings – two of which were clad in a silver-colored metal panel; the third in red brick – looked vastly different. The sprawling campus featured multiple, but indistinct entries. “It was our goal to create a sense of place, or community, with connectivity,” notes Koch.
When deciding where to most appropriately focus the architectural intervention for maximum effect, Boston Properties and ADD Inc agreed that the lobbies and connective tissue between the buildings were best-suited. “We wanted to use a progressive palette of materials in such a way that it would establish a sense of campus and make the buildings really work together,” says Vincenzo Giambertone, associate principal at ADD Inc and project designer. “At the same time, the new materials in these strategic locations could be employed in various ways that would help foster a new and separate identity for each of the three buildings.”
For instance, the main, central building features a clock-tower element that surrounds occupied office space. Rather than eliminate or otherwise interfere with this valuable rentable area, the project team installed a beautiful glass canopy with a nighttime up-lit element. The team also had to contend with the hierarchical nature of the many entries. “The sameness and consistency throughout the complex involved using that palette of materials; the differences required re-interpreting the materials from lobby to lobby,” explains Giambertone.
Boston Properties’ Cantalupa likens the complex to a high-rise office tower laying on its side – to help visualize the immense breadth of the project. Yet, lobby areas were relatively small, with low ceiling heights. “We wanted to create a feeling of lightness, of height in a suburban building atmosphere that really didn’t have much in the way of height,” he explains. “Entries were tucked into the building, so this combination of largely glass and steel allowed us to pull out and light the entries in a way that defined the spaces and made them more friendly.” Now, previously dark, unceremonious entries carved into the buildings reach out and mark a point of destination. For instance, the glass canopy shelter of the main building extends interior finishes and materials out to the landscape as a method in which to draw users in.
Inside the lobbies, crisp lines and clean detailing include back-lit laminate glass, which augments natural light to help enliven and activate spaces. Horizontal lattice assemblies reach out to the landscape. Clear plastic cellular material used in the ceilings mimics the principles of light and air. The design achieves, through its materiality, a unique environment varied in levels of opacity. Materials reflect the user in transition from outside to inside and help guide one into the space. Giambertone defines the solution as “the architectural extroversion of the program.”
One of the most surprising aspects of Reservoir Place, post-modernization, is the visual transition from daytime to nighttime. During the workday, the external daylight and artificial illumination into the building create a light-filled environment; conversely, each evening from the highway, the building literally glows as a well-known landmark on Route 128. Notes Boston Properties’ Koop, “Reservoir Place has a remarkable presence, especially at night.
“It also has great lines; it’s really one of our marketing strengths. For a user that is looking for a more forward-thinking image, this asset feels like home. And when you combine that with a highly visible streetscape and Main Street amenities unlike anything in the area, you have something special.
“We’re extremely pleased with the results. The new design and renovation work has allowed the asset to actually function like an urban asset with common areas seeing continuous and contagious activity. Most importantly, it’s paid off in leasing. ‘A suburban office building with an urban Main Street.’ We really think it has differentiated us in the marketplace.”
Linda K. Monroe (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editorial director at Buildings magazine.
Modernization Team at Reservoir Place • Architectural Design Team (entry submitter): ADD Inc • Owner/Developer: Boston Properties Inc. • Construction Manager: John T. Callahan & Sons • Structural Engineer: McNamara/Salvia Inc. • MEP Engineer: AHA Consulting Engineers • Products Used • Ceilings: USG Corp. • Doors/Storefronts: Kawneer • Paint: Benjamin Moore
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