Two Cambridge-based complexes – the Harvard Art Museums and Jefferson Park Apartments – received architecture awards from the Boston Society of Architecture last month.
Harvard’s Art Museums renovation and expansion received the BSA’s 2021 Harleston Parker Medal, while Jefferson Park, a Cambridge-based affordable housing complex, was a runner-up and won the People’s Choice Award .
The BSA created the Harleston Parker Medal in 1921 in memory of Boston architect J. Harleston Parker. The medal is used to recognize “the finest piece of architecture, building, monument, or structure” in the Boston area.
This year marks the third time the BSA has recognized architecture at Harvard University in the past decade, having awarded the medal to Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center in 2019 and Harvard Graduate Student Housing. in 2011.
The BSA jury praised the renovation and expansion of the Harvard Art Museums for embodying “traditional principles” while being “welcoming” and “warm”.
“Every inch of this building has been considered in the design and construction to work harmoniously together,” the jury wrote in its commentary.
While Harvard is no stranger to the BSA award, Jefferson Park Apartments – built in North Cambridge by the Cambridge Housing Authority – is the first affordable housing development to receive a medal nomination.
The jury hailed Jefferson Park Apartments as a “transformative project” that exemplifies “community beauty as a unifier”.
Apart from the recognition of the complex by the BSA, it also received acclaim from the public, winning the people’s choice award for the complex with 57% of the public vote.
Despite the complex’s distinction, CHA executive director Michael J. Johnston noted that the main aim of the project was not fame, but the creation of “sustainable and usable” public housing for Cambridge communities. .
“About 15 years ago the Cambridge Housing Authority realized that public housing as we know it is a dinosaur, that public housing as we know it is truly on its way to extinction,” Johnston said.
Johnston explained that Jefferson Park, which was originally temporary housing for veterans, had “collapsed” until the CHA reused it.
“We had 108 public housing units that literally fell on the people who lived there [at Jefferson Park],” he said.
Johnston said Jefferson Park has struggled with “all sorts of mold and mildew issues” due to being built on land that was once a pond, forcing the CHA to completely renovate the complex.
“There’s no way to make these properties energy efficient, there’s no way to make them sustainable,” Johnston said of older affordable housing. “If you want to worry about Cambridge’s 100-year-old floodplain, you have to put heating systems and ventilation systems on the roof – there’s no way to introduce central air conditioning into these buildings.”
Despite the challenges, Johnston said he thinks the CHA has done a ‘good job’ with its portfolio, noting that over the past 12 years the CHA has spent more than $600 million building housing. social.
“There are so many things changing in the world we live in,” Johnston said. “Affordable housing needs to follow that.”
—Editor Julia J. Hynek can be reached at [email protected]