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Boston might plunk apartments atop some of its library branches

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Other big development news of the week includes a Kenmore Square hotel advancing, a pivot on Fenway Center, and an effort underway to stop the demolition of the Hurley Building

A rendering of a narrow five-story building. Boston Public Library

Welcome back to Critical Mass., in which Curbed Boston covers all the major development news in the region every week. This round includes projects in Fenway, the Seaport, and Cambridge. Plus, how sports influenced development this decade.


First up, the development team behind the five-building Fenway Center project where Beacon Street meets the Massachusetts Turnpike and Commonwealth Avenue—the first parts of which are scheduled to open early next yearplan to pivot some of its residential parts toward lab space. It appears to be all the rage nowadays: specialized lab space for the Boston region’s ballooning life sciences industry.

Now to an interesting citywide proposal. The Boston Public Library is considering adding apartments to four branches in the West End, Dorchester, and Roxbury that are otherwise already slated for renovations. It would be the first time the city has done such a thing. (At top is how the Fields Corner branch in Dorchester would look with apartments atop it.)

An aerial view of four new buildings amid an urban landscape that includes highways and a harbor. The Abbey Group

This next bit is all about subtraction, not addition: The firm behind the redevelopment of the old Boston Flower Exchange on Albany Street in the South End went ahead and demolished that building this week. The redevelopment is due to produce a four-building technology and life sciences campus (see what we mean about all the rage nowadays?).

Back to additions, with two projects marking major milestones. Work wrapped on the four-story, 16-unit apartment building at 1699 Massachusetts Avenue, the first sizable multifamily project between Cambridge’s Harvard and Porter squares in decades. And, in Boston’s Seaport, the 21-story, 414-unit NEMA Boston at 399 Congress Street—which stuffed the famed “sausage parcel”opened to tenants.

And a plan at 560 Commonwealth Avenue in Fenway for a 29-story, 391-room hotel shaped not unlike New York’s Flatiron building won the approval of the Boston Planning and Development Agency.

So did a plan to redevelop the United South End Settlements’ Harriet Tubman House at 566 Columbus Avenue in the South End into 66 condos and around 5,000 square feet of community space and retail. The nonprofit will use the money from the building’s sale to move to a new Rutland Street location.

A monolithic, multi-story office building. Boston Globe via Getty Images

Meanwhile, there’s a full-bore effort underway now to preserve the Hurley Building. The state wants to sell the 327,000-square-foot brutalist hulk in Boston’s Government Center that Paul Rudolph designed. A new owner would very, very likely demolish it to make way for a new development.

Speaking of preservation—albeit of a different sort—Boston Children’s Museum hired Watertown-based design firm Sasaki to devise a plan for the waterfront institution to battle climate change and perhaps remake the stretch of the Harborwalk in front of it.

And, while we’re on things lasting, a new forecast says that Boston’s hotel market will continuing strongly into the new decade, with average daily room rates up and with owners and operators making considerable money per room. Such figures surely help explain the city’s hotel development boom.

Actually, let’s stay with the 2020s. These are five real estate trends that should—that need—to keep going in the next decade if the Boston region is to properly address challenges such as climate change, the housing shortage, and traffic congestion.

Finally, a look back—at how sports influenced the region’s built environment this decade.