the call of urban shoppers for storefront windows and enticingly
clad mannequins decked in the latest fashions, Mitchell/Giurgola
Architects built Lafayette Place, a suburban mall in the heart
of downtown Boston, during the early 1980s.
the day it opened its doors until the mall’s closing
in 1992, the block-long shopping locale failed to bring in
both retailers and shoppers, and was never fully leased.
failure of Lafayette Place was largely attributed to its architecture,
a box design that even modernism’s adoring critics would
have shunned. The only solace of the flat façade was
an occasional window punched in the masonry. Its lifeless
color and design were an unwelcome and obtrusive addition
to the street once known as Paper Row. A time-traveler from
the early 1900s would have been shocked to see the awnings
and architecture signature of this era, replaced with the
cold minimal lines of the failed retail center.
A circular courtyard in the center of the building punctuates
the three-story, 360,000 square feet at Lafayette Place, like
a round hole in a square doughnut. When shoppers entered the
facility through the adjacent department store (now Macy’s),
they found themselves walking in a circle that led them back
to where they started. Originally, the mall had hoped to seduce
Bloomingdale’s to be its second anchor, but when these
plans went bust, Lafayette Place did not have a Plan B. Constructed
with only one entrance through the existing department store
to the north, the mall’s exterior walls – void of
the revolving doors, stairways, and signage that shoppers
had grown used to – seemed to be there more to keep people
out than invite them in.
developers knew all too well of the mall’s lack of success,
and were unwilling to take on the risk of failure. Scared
away by the stigma associated with the building, it took the
insight of an outsider to look beyond the past and see a promising
future. Amerimar Enterprises Inc., a Philadelphia-based real
estate developer, had previously invested in a nearby building,
600 Washington Street, and watched Lafayette Place struggle
from birth to death. Uninfluenced by the building’s cursed
history, the company sought financial backing from Angelo,
Gordon & Co. and rallied together in a joint venture with
Centrum Properties. The building had stood empty for five
years before it was added to the Amerimar portfolio in 1997.
we were looking at the property, and thinking ‘it’s
brick, it’s less than 20 years old, we should keep it,’
but, unfortunately, our perception was that it looked like
a prison from the outside,” says Gerald M. Marshall,
president and chief operating officer for Amerimar. Rightfully
attributing the building’s demise to the uninviting exterior
motivated the developer to undertake a massive modernization
of the existing structure.
Unsure of how to reposition the building, Amerimar initially
contemplated transforming Lafayette Place into an entertainment
complex. “As they started to develop that concept, people
in the city suggested to them that maybe they should think
about office use, because it’s such a good location with
public transportation access,” explains Larry Grossman,
principal of ADD Inc., the Cambridge, MA-based architectural
and engineering firm selected for the renovation. The suggestion
was considered – but not seriously – until two large
tenants came forward and expressed interest in leasing the
space, given that Amerimar would transform Lafayette Place
into Lafayette Corporate Center.
plans began to take shape in this new direction, the prospective
office tenants discovered that 300,000 square feet of space
would not be enough to fulfill their real estate requirements.
Adjusting plans, ADD Inc. determined that three additional
stories could be constructed on top of the existing building
to accommodate their needs. “The scope grew as they looked
at different opportunities and different uses of the building.
It went from a renovation of a three-story building, to being
a renovation of a three-story building with three levels being
added on as well,” says Scott Menard, project executive,
Suffolk Construction Co., Boston.
some storefront glass and entrances from the street, the Amerimar/ADD
Inc. team felt sure that a lower level offering of
retailers would bring in neighborhood shoppers. Plans were
rapidly taking shape. Lafayette Corporate Center, when completed,
would house 50,000 square feet of retail space along Washington
Street and provide 575,000 rentable square feet of office
space in the five stories above.
project was not without its design challenges, however. According
to ADD Inc.’s senior associate principal, B.K. Boley,
“From a design point of view, we had to be very conscious
of not making this building seem bigger than it was –
which I think was the mistake that had been made with the
previous building. It was only a three-story building, [yet]
everyone seemed to think that it was already a five- or six-story
building – it just seemed larger. So our conscious design
attempts were to break down the scale and animate the street
depth to the previously flat façade would require massive
demolition, saving only the building’s raw steel members
and structural support beams. The newly designed skin was
destined to change the look of the building – and the
neighborhood. Layering materials on the Washington Street
façade energized the exterior and created the illusion
of depth, further diminishing the scale of the building and
making it appear more comprehensible to the eye.
Inc. architects took their cues from two streets running perpendicular
to the Washington Street façade, using these junctures
as places to locate multi-level bays on the building’s
exterior. An additional bay was placed at the corner of Washington
Street and Avenue de Lafayette. “In most cases, we only
had two inches in depth to work with, from one skin to the
next skin. We were right on the property line when we started
– so we could either come out in bays or work in layers,”
three bays transformed the previously two-dimensional exterior
into an animated façade, adding rhythm and visual drama
to the building. “The idea was that the bays were multi-story
and they could hold the signage for the retail that occurred
on the first floor,” Grossman says. Signage was a critical
design element to ADD Inc.’s architectural plan.
billboards, banners, and neon gave the appearance that there
was an abundance of retail available at Lafayette Corporate
Center. “This was a very un-Boston thing to do, but because
of the depressed nature of that part of town and the stigma
that came with a failed retail project, the city was much
more open to an animated retail façade,” elaborates
Grossman. Due to the street and neighborhood’s large
retail presence, presenting this image was a crucial element
to blending the building into its surroundings.
facility’s corporate entrance is located around the corner,
beneath a wide canopy, off of Avenue de Lafayette. Hoping
to achieve a more sophisticated and subdued appearance, the
ADD Inc. architects designed a stronger masonry façade
that they hoped would set the tone for the building’s
primary function. Throughout the process of designing the
architectural schemes for the building, the Boston Redevelopment
Authority (BRA) was consulted. In one meeting between the
BRA and ADD Inc. team, a committee member commented about
liking the look and flashing of the back of the bricks selected
for the façade, more than their intended surface. After
consulting with the manufacturer, the decision was made to
use the brick backwards, a look that gave the masonry more
variation and texture.
existing three stories of the building were located on top
of a three-level public parking garage owned by the city of
Boston, and long-term leased to a private operator. The garage
serviced parking for Lafayette Place Mall, the Swissotel,
which is connected to the building on the south, and the adjacent
Macy’s department store that also shared the northern
wall of the facility.
was a complicated project because everything you did you had
to get permission from the Swissotel, the parking operator,
the city of Boston, and Macy’s,” says Marshall.
The success of the demolition and renovation work is a testament
to the expertise and skill of Suffolk Construction Co. and
its dedication to maintaining the schedule dictated at the
easements, which provided access from the parking garage to
the hotel as well as to the department store, needed to be
maintained. During the modernization, both the Swissotel and
the parking garage remained in operation. Shared electrical
and mechanical (HVAC and fire alarm) systems between the mall
and the Swissotel, however, had to be divorced from one other
– a challenge, to say the least.
downtown location of the facility was the source of more than
a few head-scratching questions: How would we erect the steel?
Where would we put the crane? A rather innovative solution
evolved, explains Menard.
erect the steel, we had to build up a platform on the roof,
over frame the roof, and put the crane up on the roof and
work it from one end to the other,” he says.
accommodate the weight of the three new levels, additional
support was necessary. “There was a variety of bracing
that had to be added,” Menard explains, “not only
to take the load of the three levels above, but also to accommodate
new elevators [and a] change in stairs.” On the first
floor, the circular cutout in the center of this square building
was filled in to establish a continuous floorplan and provide
a lobby area for the corporate entrance off Avenue de Lafayette.
to Boston’s Financial District, Government Center, other
shopping venues, and the Theater District, this area of downtown
has begun a resurgence that started with the modernization
of Lafayette Corporate Center. The “Combat Zone,”
as it was once referred to, is experiencing more development
and modernization, including the restoration of a nearby opera
house. Due in part to the successful transformation of Lafayette
Place into a thriving mixed-use commercial building, developers
such as Millennium Partners and their financial backers have
gained the confidence needed to pursue another neighborhood
100 percent of the office space currently leased, it’s
no doubt that the once “impenetrable box” has now
become a welcoming sight. Lafayette Corporate Center’s
retail space is gradually being gobbled up by lease agreements
with companies like Eddie Bauer and Citizens Bank. From failure
to fabulous, the building on Washington and Lafayette finally
has citizens of Boston smiling.