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Lowell Mill Proposal Wins 2010 Competition

The adaptive reuse of a historic mill building in Lowell, Massachusetts, to create 53 units of affordable housing for families received the first place award in the 10th annual Affordable Housing Development Competition. 

The awards were announced at an awards ceremony April 23 at Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott, a Boston architectural firm. Providing the keynote address at this year's event was Tina Brooks, undersecretary at the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development. In addition to serving as the state's current housing policy chief, Ms. Brooks has worked for the Local Initiatives Support Corporation and The Community Builders in a long career as an advocate for affordable housing.

The First-Place Shawknit Mill Team

Along with the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston (the Bank), the 2010 competition was sponsored by Citizens' Housing and Planning Association, the Boston Society of Architects/AIA, Kevin P. Martin & Associates, P.C., and ICON Architecture, Inc.

In awarding the first place award to the Shawknit Mill proposal, the competition judges cited the proposal's innovative reuse of a mill building, quality architectural renderings, reasonable budget, and effective explanation of why commercial uses would be inappropriate for the site. A distinctive feature of the Shawknit proposal is a central atrium running through the center of the building to create open communal space for services and amenities.

The winning proposal was submitted by graduate students from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Harvard Business School, and the MIT School of Architecture and Planning. The team worked with Jeff Fugate of the nonprofit Coalition for a Better Acre in Lowell and Lee Cott of the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Receiving the second-place award was the Village at Walnut, a proposal to renovate and reconstruct a four-building, 164 unit public housing development adjacent to a Green Line MBTA station in Brookline. The plan calls for the demolition of three buildings and the construction of two new buildings to create affordable housing for families, seniors, and residents with disabilities. The team collaborated with the Brookline Housing Authority.

Architectural rendering of the first-place Shawknit Mill proposal

The third-place winner was Union Center, a mixed-use, transit-oriented proposal to create 29 affordable apartments, 19 market-rate apartments, ground-floor retail space, a community center, and a small park on a vacant site in Somerville's Union Square. The team collaborated with the Somerville Community Corporation.

This year marked the 10th anniversary of the bank-sponsored competition, which pairs student teams from Greater Boston universities with nonprofit developers to create innovative proposals for affordable housing developments under consideration by the developers. The competition provides students with hands-on development experience and offers developers access to the skills of talented students to help get their projects off the ground. Over the years, many competition proposals have been built by the participating nonprofit developers, including the Dartmouth Hotel development in Boston's Dudley Square and the VNA Senior Living Community in Somerville.

This year's competition included the participation of five teams and students from MIT, Harvard University, Tufts University, and Boston Architectural College. The students worked with developers from the Chinese Economic Development Council in Boston, Salem Harbor Community Development Corporation, Brookline Housing Authority, Somerville Community Corporation, and the Coalition for a Better Acre in Lowell.

The first place winner received a $10,000 prize, the second place winner $6,000, and the third place winner $2,500. Each award is shared equally between the student team and the developer.

The Affordable Housing Development Competition originated 10 years ago when students from Harvard and MIT approached the Bank's housing and community investment department for help in creating a housing design competition for area students. Since then, the competition has grown to become a mainstay of graduate education at Harvard, MIT, and other area universities.

Theo Noell, manager of programs and outreach in the Bank's Housing and Community Investment Department, notes that the Bank's sponsorship of the competition complements its support for affordable housing and economic growth throughout New England. Support for the competition expands the Bank's links to the housing community and the next generation of housing professionals.

The competition also introduces a new generation of housing planners and designers to key players in the affordable-housing community, including member bankers, who serve as finance mentors, and local architects, who serve as design mentors.

Tobi Goldberg
Senior Community Investment Manager at the Bank.