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Proposed East Boston development would be built to resist flooding and storm surges - because it sits in a floodplain

Addison rendering

Architect's rendering.

A New York developer has filed formal plans for 270 residential units in two buildings off Addison Street in East Boston that look more like office or hotel buildings than the sort of five-story developments we've become accustomed to, on a site that will feature plantings and building designs able to withstand the periodic flooding and storm surges that come from being in a flood plain.

In its project-notification form, Bulgroup Colorado of New York says it would build 179 parking spaces on what is now a large overflow parking lot for Avis's Logan operations. Bulgroup says the project is "transit oriented" because it is a roughly ten-minute walk to the Orient Heights and Wood Island stops on the Blue Line.

In the filing, Bulgroup explains its design criteria for the project between the Maverick Mills building and the Brandywyne Village development, in which the two buildings, from three to five stories, would be connected by an "amenity deck."

The residential buildings have been designed to touch the ground as lightly as possible, and are lifted off the ground by a field of sculptural columns. The typical podium typology of garage below and building above is also blurred by transforming the traditional podium into a sculptural element which both floats above the landscape and peels down to meet the ground, encouraging movement across the Project Site and up through the buildings. The Project’s residents and the surrounding neighborhood will not only benefit from enhanced views, but will also be more visually connected with the landscape. ...

The proposed materials for the Project are a mix of masonry, corrugated metal, and fiber cement siding. These materials were chosen to create a natural palette to complement the surrounding industrial-residential neighborhood while also designing the expanses of facade, visible from McClellan Highway, as “larger works of art” through color, texture, and orientation of these materials.

The filing adds:

In addition to creating a physical connection beneath the building, elevating the building above the landscape is also meant to maintain as much of the existing grade as possible. The existing soil is mostly clay and silt and the existing groundwater table is just a few feet below the lowest point of the Project Site. Understanding that the Project Site will be prone to periodic flooding and water retention during events of extreme precipitation, the lowest lying areas will be planted with native and hardy vegetation, which will also reduce stormwater runoff in the surrounding area.

The potential for flooding explains Bulgroup's proposed open space for the site, which is now pretty much 100% covered in asphalt:

Tree plantings will be larch, poplar, willow, and numerous shrubs and grasses all tolerant of storm surges and occasional flooding. Plantings will be clustered to break down the scale of the buildings to the neighbors. New planting species selections also mimic existing plant species in an effort to expand the existing urban plant palette across the Project Site instead of introducing a traditional residential landscape of lawn and shade trees. ...

At the western boundary of the Project Site, where the Project meets the large surface parking lot of 175 McClellan Highway, a large, landscaped open space is proposed to create both a visual focal point, from the approach off McClellan Highway, and to provide an area of recharge to support drainage at the Project Site and resiliency during storm and flood conditions. This space will be programmed with amenities for the Project’s residents.

In addition to the plantings, the first floor of each building would be four feet higher than the anticipated floods, and the buildings' mechanical facilities would be housed on the second floor.

The filing has dropped a local developer that Bulgroup originally included in its letter of intent, filed last summer.

From the filing:

Addison Street proposal
Addison Street proposal
Addison Street proposal

144 Addison St. project-notification form (38M PDF).

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I have a fairly long history of supporting Brutalist architecture here and elsewhere. I can't say I have met another aficionado.

That said.. I *love* the design.

Plus the oceans have been rising for the last 21,840 years, so the flood-resistant aspirations are sensible in my humble opinion, being so close and low to the ocean and all.

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Holocene ocean level rise:


It has tapered off a bit, but there is still some rise left. Here's a map from NOAA published a while ago. It shows relative ocean levels.


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The big jump in sea level in the Gulf of Maine (which includes the MA coast down to the north side of the Cape) is likely attributable to the big temperature jump - a jump that is pushing sea bass and other lobstervores to the north.


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Also the slowing/weakening of the North Atlantic Current, which essentially pulls water away from the coast and reduces sea levels along the East Coast

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This is not super brutalist though, the plantings and windows really break things up. In fact I am so sick of the multi colored panels that EVERY building has these days , it is nice looking at something that does not look like it was pooped out of a lego factory.

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All the talk about making this place flood-hardy sounds good. But is it enough? If this is one of those places that floods at the drop of a hat (they mentioned the high watertable) will all their mitigation really be sufficient?

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I think we saw a few of these during the recent blizzard. :-)

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