MIT Architect Proposes Plan for Navy Yard Building

December 15, 2011
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Rendering of potential building.

Architect and MIT graduate Kamran Zahedi’s approach to designing and developing new properties is as respectful to the past as it is forward thinking.

Zahedi is the president of Urbanica Design and Development, an architecture firm located on Berkeley Street in Boston. He hopes to win the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s bid for Parcel 39A in Charlestown Navy Yard. Zahedi is one of four parties who submitted a proposal for the parcel last month.

Zahedi’s ties to the Navy Yard date back to the 1980s after he graduated from MIT with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and an advanced degree in architecture. He was hired by a group of investors as a design and development consultant for a proposal for Building 105. Zahedi later lived in the Navy Yard’s Basilica building with his wife and daughter.

“I’ve loved the area for a long, long time,” said Zahedi, who moved to the U.S. from Iran in 1975 when he was 17 years old. “We really enjoyed living there, and when I heard about the possibility to come up with a proposal for Parcel 39A, I was very excited.”

Urbanica’s work thus far has been mostly in residences and hotels. The firm got its start transforming old mills in New Hampshire into housing before shifting to the Boston market. Zahedi says the firm’s concept is the transformation of unused buildings or sites to working, living and entertainment spaces.

“Our work is contemporary, but we call it contextual,” Zahedi said. “We try to respect the past, however we understand we’re living today and we’re moving forward into the future. So we try to do work that represents our economic, social (and) design status of our time. We really have to respect the where and when and what we have to do today. We want to be real and answer to the needs of the public.”

One of the firm’s recent projects, which won praise from The Boston Globe’s architecture critic Robert Campbell, is a set of 40 new apartments on Massachusetts Ave. in the South End. Prior to the development, the lot was vacant for 50 years. The new apartment building blends in seamlessly with the existing buildings on either side, nodding its head to the history of the neighborhood while also serving as a guide to modern, innovative living.

“That project was very successful,” said Zahedi of the apartments. “I was talking to one of the members of the neighborhood, and he (told) me that they tell other developers they should follow our model of collaborating with the neighborhood, with the city agencies and with the public. (We were) really concentrating on a good product for Boston.”

Zahedi says that the available Navy Yard space “fits the formula of Urbanica” of bringing contemporary design and respect for the contextual setting of the area. For the proposal to the city’s BRA, Urbanica put a team of many collaborators together, including Neshamkin French Architects, Faros Properties and NADAAA. The proposal calls for 39 rental housing units – including studios, one and two bedroom apartments with balconies – first floor commercial space, underground parking, a central courtyard and a diagonal pedestrian pathway.

“We thought more housing would be nice in the area,” said Zahedi. “However, the first floor in our view should stay more commercial and public use. The idea was to try to get something that benefits the public and residents of the Navy Yard. We came up with the idea of creating a food market there.” Zahedi invited his good friend Victor Leon, who owns Foodie’s in the South End, to participate in the proposal.

The proposal also incorporates the area’s rich history and marine activities. Zahedi proposed subsidized permanent first floor space for offices and activity rooms for Courageous Sailings, which offers sailing programs on the harbor for children, as well as meeting and artifact space for the Freedom Trail Foundation.

Zahedi says he expects it will take three to six months for the city to pick the winning developer of Parcel 39A. Committee meetings regarding the property will likely be the next step in the process.