The 2021 Green Building Showcase is set to return to Boston on October 21st at the revitalized Charles River Speedway—a landmark example of adaptive reuse and historic preservation. It’s not too late to buy your tickets to join the leading architects, engineers, contractors, developers, owners, facility managers, manufacturers and more pushing the envelope for sustainable and regenerative design, construction and operations of the built environment.

The following overview of the project was provided by Bruner/Cott Architects.

Charles River Speedway

The Charles River Speedway is a dynamic, transformative reuse project that combines historic preservation and forward-thinking sustainable design to reposition a 19th-century racetrack and police station into a vibrant community asset and new gateway to the Allston-Brighton neighborhood of Boston.

The Speedway was originally constructed in 1899 by the Metropolitan Park Commission as a headquarters to support a new parkway along the Charles River, a park that turned a stretch of tidal mudflats into an interconnected series of public parks. This development included a mile-long horse and bicycle racetrack, which became one of the city’s most popular gathering areas. In later years, the facility housed the now-defunct Metropolitan District Commission Police. Many of the original horse stables were extended and converted into vehicular garages to support the agency. Hidden in plain sight along Soldier’s Field Road, the facility had been largely abandoned since 2005. Portions of the buildings had begun to decay, and one section suffered a fire.

credit: Department of Conservation & Recreation

The complex, owned by the Mass. Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Boston Historic Landmark. An irregular roofline connects six shingle-style buildings, creating a single-story courtyard. The arched gable entrances, porches, double hung windows and elaborate wood trim create an overall composition characteristic of William D. Austin’s architectural work for the Metropolitan Park Commission. Through the state’s Historic Curatorship Program, the DCR created a long-term lease for not-for-profit developer, Architectural Heritage Foundation (AHF) to rehabilitate and manage the historic property. 

Bruner/Cott worked alongside AHF to revitalize and preserve the complex, which now supports a variety of commercial uses. Tenants include small retail shops and maker spaces, shared offices, a restaurant, café, a publicly accessible community courtyard, and anchor tenant Notch Brewing.

credit: Bruner/Cott Architects

credit: The Speedway

credit: Department of Conservation & Recreation

credit: Department of Conservation & Recreation

The project’s preservation approach included:

  • Removal of piecemeal garage extensions at historic stable frontages and the reconstruction of lost features including wooden carriage access, sliding barn doors, and windows. 
  • A new, wooden ramp unifies original building entrances at the same grade and doubles as a stage for outdoor performances. 
  • Damaged interior plaster was removed to add insulation. 
  • Fieldstone foundations were reinforced with concrete and repointed. 
  • Stables and a 1940 concrete garage were fitted with recessive glazed fronts and overhead doors that connect them to the upper courtyard. 

Sustainable design strategies employed include:

  • A 100% electric mechanical system, which will become carbon-free as Boston actively decarbonizes its electric supply. The team approached the mechanical design with heat pumps, which reduced the amount of ductwork and piping needed as compared to an air system.
  • The envelopes leverage the low cost and low carbon of cellulose, while including new detailing to promote drying of the roof and wall sheathing and match the historic profiles of the existing buildings. This required development of a ventilation system under the sheathing of the roof. The new cladding system incorporated a new drainage plane to create a vapor open wall assembly, and protect the new cedar shingles by promoting drying throughout the year. 
  • The site now includes a complex, sub-surface stormwater recharge system to divert runoff from the adjacent Charles River. 
  • The basement and slab design implements robust barrier strategies at the building’s foundation to prevent ground contamination of VOCs leftover from previous uses from entering interior spaces. This included sheet barriers at slabs, clear sealing systems at historic fieldstone foundations so they could remain exposed, and future sub-slab ventilation systems, should they be needed to remove contaminants in the future.

credit: Bruner/Cott Architects

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