Saturday, November 14, 2009

Blog Post No. 2009-7: The Back of the Four Seasons Hotel

Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference (The first in a series...)

Location: 200 Boylston Street, Boston, MA (MAP)

Year of Urban Fabric Restoration: 2006

The Photos: In and around the intersection of Columbus Avenue, Charles Street, and St. James Avenue, at the rear of the Four Seasons Hotel, showing the two-story addition done as part of the extensive renovation of the hotel.

The Story: Completed in 1985, the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston was one of the first hotels developed with luxury condominiums in the same building that can make use of the hotel's services. Needless to say, a success and a model much copied elsewhere. Given the hotel's location -- across Boylston Street from the Public Garden and Boston Common, blocks from Boston's high-end shopping districts along Back Bay's Newbury Street and in the Copley Plaza -- it's hard to remember that the development project was actually pursued under the auspices of the Park Plaza Urban Renewal Plan. The area to the rear of the hotel, Boston's Park Plaza area, was the principal area to which the city's red light district migrated after the early 1960s urban renewal-motivated demolition of the old Scollay Square to make way for Government Center. With the adoption and implementation of the Park Plaza plan in the 1970s and 1980s, the remaining adult entertainment uses moved on to the Combat Zone a few blocks to the east. Getting back to the Four Seasons itself, its Boylston Street frontage worked well from the beginning, being drawn up to the wide sidewalks of the major street and activating the edge with entrances and high visibility into the hotel's ground floor through a permeable facade. But the St. James Avenue frontage was less fortunate. Particularly at the irregular intersection of St. James, Charles, and Columbus, the building was drawn far back from Columbus, leaving a no-man's land that was little used. There were also no ground floor entrances or uses that could bring life to the street. When the hotel decided it was time for a complete top-to-bottom overhaul of its guest rooms, they also took the felicitous step of filling in the dead zone that had been left at this intersection, inserting a curving two-story wing that includes a high-end furniture store at the ground level and meeting areas and function space above. This may seem like a fairly small, incremental improvement, but when teamed with the much-improved retail uses on the ground floor of the 1920s-era Motormart Garage and the One Charles residential building across St. James (RTUF will get to that in a later post) and the smart treatment of the smaller and more usable public space (now dubbed the Bristol Courtyard) that remains, it clearly works as a sum greater than its parts. And I'm an incrementalist at heart anyway.

[Rev. November 16, 2009] RTUF Sketch of the Restored Urban Fabric: See below. I'm clearly not an architect, but you get a sense of the sensitivity of the change here and how it helps frame up and channel the view along Columbus Avenue into the Common.

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