The Edgerly represents the First Place Proposal for the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston’s Regional Affordable Housing Competition. Completed within a seven-week timeframe, the annual competition matches graduate student teams with affordable housing organizations to develop innovative residential design proposals that respond to the critical affordable housing needs of the Boston metropolitan area. The process would bring together students from two universities, spanning the disciplines of landscape architecture, planning, architecture, real estate finance and law, tasked with balancing the identified goals and values of the housing entity with the opportunities and constraints of an identified physical site. Reviewed for community responsiveness, design quality, environmental sensitivity and innovation, the proposal seeks to both create a non-traditional model for affordable housing and to provide information to financial institutions for their assessment of predevelopment loans.
The one-acre Edgerly Education Center site rests within the community of Somerville, Massachusetts. With a population of more than 76,000 residing within only four square miles, Somerville is the most densely populated municipality in New England. With various planned public investments nearby, notably the MBTA Green Line extension, these improvements will benefit local residents and businesses but are also likely to drive up housing prices and increase gentrification. East Somerville – specifically where the project site lies – possesses a particularly high percentage of renters compared to the larger city, a quarter of whom are severely rent-burdened.
Demographics + Stakeholder Engagement
Over forty percent of residents in the census tract surrounding the Edgerly Education Center are foreign-born, and over a third speak a language other than English at home. Additionally, East Somerville is made up of slightly larger families than the rest of the city, often with multiple generations living together, reflecting a need for larger units. In our outreach process with nearly 30 stakeholders, most individuals repeatedly emphasized that diversity was one of the neighborhood’s top assets. In order to maintain this diversity and retain affordability, East Somerville will have to dramatically increase its stock of affordable housing.
The Edgerly Education Center, a longtime anchor and collective memory of East Somerville, was built in 1935 and has served as a public elementary school for nearly 80 years. The C-shaped, three-story brick structure possesses many attributes ideal for a residential conversion, including expansive windows and double loaded corridors. The site’s groundplane – 78% impervious – is limited, dominated by expansive asphalted areas, industrial guardrails protecting the foundation from ad-hoc parking areas and includes few trees. With a new school building nearing completion, the proposal envisions the transformation of interior and exterior spaces to serve contemporary community needs while still remaining an anchor for lifelong learning in East Somerville.
Our proposal includes forty-three total housing units and five single-room occupancy (SRO) units for homeless assistance. Eleven units (27.5%) are affordable for very low-income tenants earning at or below 30% of area median income (AMI), with the remaining units for low-income tenants earning at or below 60% AMI. Our proposal demonstrates financial feasibility using a combination of Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) equity, state and city housing subsidies, as well as permanent and construction loans. Furthermore, our proposal extends the site’s educational heritage through arts-focused continuing education and youth development programming. The space will be home to El Sistema, an internationally-renowned youth program providing classical music training as a vehicle for social change, which currently operates out of the school and is looking to expand. This will be part of a system of flexible ground-level classroom space which can be adapted to suit the changing needs of the community while maintaining the core values of lifelong learning and cultural exchange.
Organized around three distinct and deliberate elements, our proposal uniquely positions the physical landscape to foster social and educational environments for both residents and building users, to improve environmental site conditions, and enhance the visual quality of East Somerville. Through these, our proposal creatively alleviates many existing physical challenges, including the notable presence of parking and imperious surfaces, the void of public spaces, and an expansive, underutilized roof through multi-disciplinary collaboration. The proposed design seamlessly integrates environmental health and sustainability with an expected LEED platinum certification. By preserving and renovating the building’s historic core, The Edgerly retains embodied energy and reduces the need for energy-intensive new construction. The site’s existing 78% impervious area is also dramatically reduced to only 31%.
Reclaim the Ground Plane – The redefined streetscape promotes connectivity and integrates a series of flexible public spaces. Along Cross Street, the public plaza provides a flexible gathering space for residents and employees while a series of gracious steps and an ADA ramp seamlessly welcomes individuals into the public lobby. Along Bonair Street, residential patios provide direct outdoor access for residents, surrounded by low-maintenance plant materials. New trees provide a continuous shaded canopy, supporting Somerville’s recent Urban Forest Initiative, while introduced rain gardens and impervious surfaces reduce load on Somerville’s combined sewer and stormwater system.
Activate the Interior – Faced with necessary parking requirements but limited off-street options, the design proposes a multi-layered, site-specific solution which maximizes investment. The existing at-grade parking courtyard, which includes access to the underground parking, is capped with an elevated structured platform. The strategy captures more direct sunlight, protects parking areas from the elements and creates a more visually pleasing public edge. The south-facing, elevated courtyard serves as the building’s physical heart, which provides a space aimed to strengthen social engagement. Modest water features reduce the presence of street noise while seasonal plantings provide privacy. The design incorporates raised planters and a modular decking system, allowing excess stormwater to be captured and directed to underground cisterns. The design solution represents the team’s multi-disciplinary collaboration. From a planning perspective, it meets parking requirements and creates an inclement shelter for elderly residents. From a landscape perspective, it provides a programmed and attractive communal space. And from an architectural perspective, it offers a direct exterior connection for residential units.
Leverage the Lid – Designed in a safe and secure manner, a series of gathering spaces are introduced on the building’s roof for both residents and the communities. Groundwork Somerville – an environmental non-profit organization will operate one-third of the roof as an educational and productive space. The organization’s existing community garden will transition to this space, offering the larger community a space to plant, tend, and harvest vegetables. Addressing the desires of our developer, the roof is designed to accommodate a future photovoltaic system, but was not immediately proposed due to financial infeasibility.
Historical Preservation, Planning + Zoning
Conversations with Somerville Historic Commission representatives revealed that although a historic survey had not yet been completed, it may be eligible for the National Historic Registry. Thus, the design follows National Historic Guidelines, identifying, retaining and preserving significant historical features, while proposing alterations to areas of lesser value. Conversations with planning officials also revealed their expectation that the property would require a new typology of Planned Unit Development (PUD), as the site does not meet existing requirements. Consequently, the design incorporates existing Somerville PUD Guidelines where feasible, but also proposes new thresholds for future developments of such scale, including a design which makes over 50% of the open space publicly accessible.