Back Bay Architectural Commission unanimously approves construction of “mechanical penthouse” on Newbury Street

Boston City Hall
Boston City Hall. Oct. 9, 2021. Photo by Mild Laohapoonrungsee / BU News Service.

By Joe Pohoryles
Boston University News Service

The Back Bay Architectural Commission met last week to review the final plans for a mechanical penthouse construction set to take place at 149 Newbury Street. The project received unanimous approval from the five commissioners in attendance to proceed with construction.

According to Phorio, a worldwide buildings database, a mechanical penthouse is “a floor level holding mechanical equipment, which is positioned above the regular floors of a building, and which is set back from the building’s perimeter.” 

Aside from the penthouse, the five-story building will have office and retail space. There will not be any residential space in the building. Construction will take place on what used to be a parking lot on Newbury and Dartmouth Street. 

Peter Habib, a regional design leader at NELSON Worldwide, one of the development firms involved in the project, presented the design plans to the Zoom meeting of roughly two dozen attendants. Habib emphasized aesthetics in addition to effectiveness when it came to designing the building.

“It was kind of a bound of where we could basically reduce the height, reduce the view angles from Newbury, from Dartmouth, from all approaches,” Habib said.

The building will also be spaced as far back as possible from neighboring buildings to reduce shadow impact on the street.

Despite those aesthetic efforts, John Christiansen, one of the commissioners, expressed concerns about how well the mechanical penthouse and roof would blend into the skyline without sticking out.

“From my standpoint, as you look down on this thing, ‘cause you can see it from a number of places, you know, on Boylston Street we got some high buildings, and so it would be nice [if] it doesn’t get one’s eye,” Christiansen said.

After ensuring the equipment on the roof would be the only thing visible from outside, Mark Bourassa, a technical director at NELSON, suggested choosing a paint finish to prevent the visible parts from standing out.

Other citizens questioned the layout having a lot of empty space, but Whitney Robinette, a principal at L3 Capital, another development firm involved in the design, explained that flexibility is needed since the type of tenants in the building are not yet known.

“We’ve engineered the design because obviously it’s 100% electric, so we’re trying to accommodate the future occupancy of the building,” Robinette said.

After questions were answered, the Commission took a motion to vote, and the design plans were approved by all five commissioners.

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