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This blog is a place for dialogue on issues and actions relating to Boston's unique built environment and the preservation and continuing evolution of historic resources within it. My goal, as the Executive Director of the Boston Preservation Alliance, is to post timely, relevant and thought-provoking intelligence, ideas, and insights that will engage conversations, inform our actions, and broaden perspectives on preservation.

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Greg Galer, Executive Director, Boston Preservation Alliance

Executive Director

AllianceViews Blog

2017 Preservation Achievement Award Winner: Four51 Marlborough

In conjunction with our 29th Annual Preservation Achievement Awards, we are profiling each of the winning projects. Follow this series to get a special look at projects that honor and update the character of Boston.

August 3rd, 2017  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance


Design Solutions

Infills can be tricky. Even more so in a historic district like Back Bay. Yet when faced with a choice to align with the eclectic seven-story Charlesgate building on one side or classic three-story brownstones on the other, the project team behind Four51 Marlborough playfully opted for neither. Instead they crafted a design that nodded to both sizes, deftly mediating the difference in heights and styles between its neighbors on either side.

This is not a simple building designed for quick construction or which let cost drive out subtlety and craft. The way in which the design team straddled these site challenges is especially noteworthy given the project’s location. This particular stretch of Marlborough is lined with four-story brownstones, brick sidewalks, wrought iron fences, and classic bay windows, all of which assert the history and iconic charm people associate with Boston. It is this diversity of texture that makes historic neighborhoods so enticing. While desirable, such an iconic streetscape also presents challenges for infill construction when the standard is, as it should be, not simply to mimic the past, but also not to ignore the context with a modern building that shouts, “Look at me! I’m new, bold, and my neighbors be damned!”

1967 educational building

Four Original Townhouses







Threading the Needle 

In 1967, four townhouses were demolished in this spot and replaced with a one-story school building that did not jibe with the historical charm of Marlborough’s collection of brownstones. In fact it took away from the historic block, adding a disruptive, nondescript brick mass. Reintroducing a contextual, yet thoroughly contemporary residential space into the tightly woven fabric of this neighborhood meant that builders would need to pivot between the two heights and also mediate its façade. Focused on detail, depth, and shadow to give the project a richness and dimension that could stand up to the 19th century context, Four51 incorporates dimensional granite details, custom metal, precast limestone, and black steel windows into the new construction. The gracious main entry is framed in cast stone and granite, and the street façade even displays Flemish-coursed roman brick patterns.

Reinforcing the character of the neighborhood 

The project team honors the building’s architectural context by focusing on quality and durability, and their thoughtful efforts permeate through the exterior into the building’s common spaces and residences. The wood paneled main entrance is enriched by both modern, clean lines and a mosaic mural inspired by the historic use of Amsterdam’s delft tile in the Back Bay. Each of the residences is outfitted in a rich palette of materials with custom millwork and marble accents. The interiors boast the same intricate balance of respectful reflection and contemporary detailing, extending the balanced design of Four51 throughout the project. “Four51 Marlborough shows that careful consideration of context and significant detailing can be respectful and appropriately referential to historic design while creating a thoroughly modern building,“ said Greg Galer, Executive Director of the Boston Preservation Alliance. “The building is fascinating to examine in the richness of its façade and how it plays off its surroundings.”


Project Details: 451 Marlborough Street, Back Bay
Owner/Developer: The Holland Companies
Architect: Hacin + Associates
Project Team: Allied Consulting Engineering Services, DeCelle-Burke and Associates, Solutions in Metal, Souza True & Partners, Tangram 3DS, Trent Bell Photography
Trickett Woodworks Co., William Bray Cabinetmaker

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