Is Brown the New Green? Why Boston’s Ugly, Expensive Macallen Condos Shouldn’t Be a Model For Green Buildings

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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10 responses to “Is Brown the New Green? Why Boston’s Ugly, Expensive Macallen Condos Shouldn’t Be a Model For Green Buildings”

  1. Bryan Willman says:

    Why do you worry about “which will do more good” based on the price? I agree that shipping toilets from Australia may well be self defeating. But do you really think low end housing can ever lead style and practice for mainstream housing? And do you really think that government mandates directed at public or semi-public housing projects will ever lead trends in mainstream housing?
    It may well be that high end projects do “more good” by setting examples the large middle market aspires too. (Leaving aside bamboo floors redone and toilets shipped from literally the far side of the Earth…)

  2. Mark Jaquith says:

    Butt ugly for sure. Maybe the next one will add some color, or maybe even visual interest. With luck lessons have been learned re materials etc.

    Mr. Willman makes a good point about the business of building housing these days. Where is the incentive to build “mainstream” housing at all. The motivators are for maxing out your floor area ratio and selling high. If anyone can point out a “neighborhood” that has been built lately, it would be a nice surprise. It seems that for the most part urban planning and even zoning responsibilities have been abandoned by government and eagerly snapped up by developers and their lenders. Hey, isn’t that similar to what happened to the mortgage industry? It didn’t work out too well.

    All that being said, at least someone is building LEED gold.

  3. Dave says:

    “It’s nice that it’s a green building, but isn’t there a way to have green buildings for, I don’t know, the NON-ultra rich?” It’s expensive to build green, duh, for the same reasons that organic food at Whole Foods is more expensive than the processed stuff in the mainstream grocery store. Specialty products at low volumes that generally require more labor and material cost are… more expensive. If being environmentally smart was cheap, well, I’m not even going to bother with the rest of this sentence.

    The only way to get various green features down in cost is to buy a lot more of them and make them mainstream, so stop criticizing the rich for being brave enough to be the early adopters.

    On a separate note, quite right to point out the arbitrary and silly nature of some LEED points. The system definitely needs constant updating and tweaking to make sure it does what it is supposed to do. Question – who should really be the arbiters of what is green? The US Green Building Council? Congress? Local building officials and town councils? Academics? Tough one to answer in a realistic manner.

  4. Jay Barker says:

    Wade – I enjoyed your article and it’s simply amazing that in 2008 this is the first LEED Gold condo in Boston. And while I’m not a big personal fan of the building design – it seems uninspired (the name is a bit self-serving and uninspired as well), there will come a better “model for green development in Boston.” It’s already happening in other environmentally progressive cities.

    I wanted though to comment on the quote “Green is not about sacrifice… it is about understanding that doing good and doing well often go hand in hand.” Actually, Green *is* about some sacrifice, while Green Marketing is what try’s to convince us it’s not. I’ll throw in that sacrifice doesn’t have to be negative – it can come with change, changing priorities, changing views, changing lifestyles.

    Also, it *can* be true that doing good and doing well often go hand-in-hand, but too often doing well trumps doing good. This is partly why the Macallen Building is the first LEED condo in Boston.

    In the new economy where developers will be more limited to building where there is actual market demand, some of them are going to figure out that if you commit first to doing good – doing well will follow (some are already on this path). Too many approach it the other way around and then hide behind nice sounding quotes like the one you found on Macallen’s website.

    Thanks again for your article!

  5. Ryan says:

    Ha! Campbell’s review calls it “LEEDS”. That must have been acceptable in 2007.

  6. Pierce says:

    I think this building is beautiful–well detailed, engaging, and successfully navigates a context that includes industrial warehouses, railyards and infrastructure, a city skyline and a residential neighborhood..  The largest similarity I can find to Sert’s work is that you don’t like it, which is unfortunate but to each his own.  I for one feel inspired everytime I pass the Macallen building, and I dream of a Boston with many many more buildings like it.