by Benjamin Goldfarb
During the 25-year history of High-Profile Monthly, the construction industry has continued to evolve, making a significant impact on Greater Boston’s skyline. Global events, technology, and industry trends fundamentally changed what is being developed and how buildings are constructed. The final decade of the Big Dig (1997-2007) created new opportunities for development (The Seaport), improved transportation infrastructure (the O’Neill and Ted Williams Tunnels and the Zakim Bridge) and new open space (Rose Kennedy Greenway). Events from the following decade-and-a-half continued to demonstrate the resiliency, innovation, and adaptability of one of the world’s oldest industries.
The Great Recession – The construction industry was one of the hardest-hit and slowest to recover. Firms struggled to stay afloat, and GCs were working on extremely low margins to keep their businesses solvent. Public work, aided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, kept many companies busy until private work slowly picked up.
The COVID-19 Pandemic – When coronavirus cases began to rise in 2020, life as we knew it came to a virtual halt. Stay-at-home orders froze the industry until restrictions for essential services were eased, and builders began incorporating required COVID-19 safety protocols to get back to doing what they do best: building.
Although the construction industry has historically been slow to adopt technology, several innovative solutions have become industry staples including the wide use of BIM, augmented and virtual reality, and advances in prefabrication/modular construction.
Increased Focus on Sustainability – In 2007, Boston became the first major U.S. city to implement a green building zoning code, requiring all major new and rehabilitation construction projects to achieve at least minimal LEED certification. The past two years have brought new green laws and regulations affecting commercial real estate, including passage of a climate bill and a new net zero opt-in energy code.
In 2010, the City of Cambridge adopted environmentally sustainable, energy-efficient design guidance for developments over 25,000sf. In Somerville, residential projects that achieve Passive House certification now receive density bonuses.
Increase in Urban Infill Projects – As apartment construction and life science projects devour real estate throughout Greater Boston, underutilized urban infill sites, including parking lots and obsolete buildings are being developed into higher-purposed assets.
As a go-to construction manager for these project types, Nauset Construction was selected to convert a former car wash on the Monsignor O’Brien Highway into Point 262, a 56 condominium community, and a parking lot in Central Square into Ten Essex, a mixed-use development consisting of 46 apartments above retail.
Rise in Adaptive Reuse – While adaptive reuse is not new, it has ramped up over the last few decades. Obsolete mills, churches, and schools have been repurposed as office, biotech, retail, and multifamily properties.
This is best exemplified by the repositioning of the brick-and-beam mill buildings in Fort Point Channel into office and life science space. Other examples include Nauset’s transformation of the historic Conrad & Chandler department store building in Boston’s Downtown Crossing into apartments, and the conversion of a historic mixed-use building in Central Square into 907 Main, a boutique luxury hotel.
The A/E/C industry will continue to learn from the past and adapt to future global challenges. Today’s advanced technologies will become mainstreamed with greater innovation to follow. As businesses shift to hybrid work and older office buildings become less desirable, it is reasonable to imagine that those properties, well-located in urban locations near public transportation, will become prime prospects for highly sustainable, urban infill and adaptive reuse developments. It is certain that the next 25 years of High-Profile’s coverage of the industry will be even more exciting than the past.
Benjamin Goldfarb is vice president of Nauset Construction.