SPECIAL GREEN- 'Green monster': Eco-friendly, sure, but are condos too tall?

Too big? This mega-condo at 201 Avon Street passed BAR muster by a single vote last December.
Croxton Collaborative Architects' website

Last December, the Board of Architectural Review approved a design by a pioneer of green architecture, Randy Croxton of Croxton Collaborative Architects, for a nine-story luxury green condominium building between the barn-like headquarters of Beck-Cohen heating and air-conditioning and the CSX railroad tracks below the Belmont bridge along Water Street. 

When Time magazine decided to focus on the green architecture movement in 2001, reporters sought out Croxton. His National Resources Defense Council building in New York City is considered a seminal project in the green architecture movement, one of the first American projects to embrace the ecology of a building. Since then, Croxton Collaborative Architects have become world-renowned experts on green building, even designing Wal-Mart's first environmentally friendly store in Lawrence, Kansas– along with another world-renowned designer, architect William McDonough. [See sidebar.] 

According to Croxton's website, the building on Avon will be the first residential building in America to win "platinum" status from a group called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, meaning it will hit a high note on all five major keys of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality.

However, that didn't seem to impress BAR members; only a single vote kept the project alive when the BAR voted 4-3 to approve.

"It's a difficult design problem for us," says BAR vice-chair Syd Knight, who voted against the project. "It's the first truly large building for that area, and some of us felt it would dwarf everything around it." 

Knight was concerned the building was too large to have any meaningful contextual relationship with the neighborhood, particularly the historic Beck-Cohen building, formerly a flour mill, which he thinks 201 Avon could "potentially overshadow." Knight concedes that that part of town could be destined for more vertical growth, but he wants to see it happen slowly and carefully.

And what if this gigantic building gets built and nothing follows nearby? "That prospect gave us all pause," he says. 

In principle, Knight says, City planners are comfortable with the way development is evolving around the perimeter of the Mall– the area where most of the tall building projects in the pipeline are slated to rise– but he says that architects and developers need to understand the City's desire to protect the integrity of neighborhoods, despite how impressive the green design may be.

However, as City planner Brian Haluska told the Hook recently, the big green project may not evolve at all.

"We haven't heard back from the architect or the developer yet," says Haluska. "If we don't hear from them by October 10, they're site plan approval will expire." 

It's rare that a developer would wait this long to submit their formal plans, Haluska explains, which may mean the project isn't going to happen. 

"Sometimes they can't get the financing, or have some other problem," he says. "...and they simply let the approval expire."