Made in the South End

Photo courtesy of Utile

Photo courtesy of Utile

Boston is known as a city of neighborhoods, with residents who care deeply about the social fabric of their communities. Peter Roth is one such resident. The founder and president of New Atlantic Development — known for some of the Boston area’s most innovative mixed-use undertakings — lives in one of his most well-known South End developments, ArtBlock.

Roth moved to Boston in 1982 for MIT’s professional master’s degree in architecture, and ended up a member of the  first class of the real estate master’s program. “I came here for graduate school and couldn’t leave, I liked it so much,” Roth recalled. “I fell in love with Boston and I never saw a need to leave it to find interesting work.” Today, he teaches a course on mixed-income housing development at MIT, introducing graduate students to methods of affordable housing creation, giving back to the institution that helped launch his career as a real estate developer.

Photos courtesy of Gunnar Glueck and Michael Woord/Nickerson.

Roth’s most recent contribution to the South End is the contemporary, mid-century inspired Girard at 600 Harrison Avenue. Located adjacent to the landmark Cathedral of the Holy Cross, the project was conceived as a solution to a simple economic problem. The Cathedral, which happens to be the largest religious structure in New England, was land rich and cash poor. Father Kevin O’Leary had the idea of converting the parish-owned parking lot into an income stream that would support the Cathedral and secure its future. He turned to Roth and New Atlantic Development for help.

“For 99 years we will be paying significant sums toward a ground lease which will support the operation, care, and upkeep of this wonderful neighborhood institution,” Roth said. “And regardless of whether you’re Catholic or agnostic, the Cathedral is an iconic architectural landmark, an important and meaningful part of our community’s character.” At ArtBlock, affordable artist space helped preserve the area’s cultural richness. While the context and environment were undeniably different, Roth and his team viewed Girard as a similar opportunity to address a unique need and to protect one of the South End’s bedrock institutions.

The unique shape of the site — long and narrow — posed some interesting challenges. Located in a formerly industrial section of the South End, the area features a number of long, wharf-style buildings in the brick and cast-iron style of architecture. Roth decided to stay within that historical context, adhering to the 70-foot height limit in the area. His design team evoked some of that industrial past by including a rich ground-face masonry block on the lower floors, and a mix of limestone-like fiber-cement panels and folded met- al panels interspaced with generous floor to ceiling windows on the upper level floors. In contrast, the carefully curated mid-century style interior spaces are conducive to a warm, comfortable, modern lifestyle.

Roth also endeavored to build for a very specific market. ArtBlock’s loft- and townhouse-style condominiums were conceived in response to the demand for affordable artist live/work space, in a busier, more transportation-impacted part of the neighborhood that was just emerging at the time. In contrast, the Girard is sited in an established part of the neighborhood, surrounded by the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and beautiful historic buildings, steps away from the heart of the SoWa district. Roth decided to target more mature, established households seeking to enjoy a part of the city that features access to culture and great restaurants, and all the South End offers.

Roth and his team paid close attention to the detailing of the apartment layouts and  finishes. They include more spacious closets, discreet dining areas, and larger kitchens more suitable for cooking and entertainment. “We have hardwood  floors throughout, no carpet at all,” Roth said. “That’s what people want in the historic South End.” But in keep- ing with the Girard’s contemporary bent, the  floors are a pale, Scandinavian white oak, fitting in with the general aesthetic quality of the project. “This building will be home for 160 families,” Roth said. “We very much want them to be supremely comfortable. We also want the rich palette of materials and colors to brighten their lives, for our amenity space furnishings and  finishes to inform them about great designers of the mid-20th century, and for the project as a whole to bring a sense of great quality and a contemporary perspective to the community.”