Jan 18, 2009

Genzyme Center wins annual Parker Medal

'Green' building is bright and beautiful
By Robert Campbell, Globe Correspondent | January 18, 2009

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company
Link to original article on

Is architecture a branch of sports?

Not really, but like everything else - elective politics, for instance - it has its sporting side. There are winners and losers, champions and prizes, strategies and promotions.

Every year about this time, a recent Boston building is declared the winner of what amounts to the annual Boston championship. It's picked as "the most beautiful piece of architecture, building, monument or structure within the limits of the City of Boston or the Metropolitan Parks District."

The words are those of an architect named J. Harleston Parker. Back in 1923, he established a prize called the Parker Medal, which has been bestowed each year since.

This year's Parker winner is the Genzyme Center, the headquarters of a major biotech company, at 500 Kendall St. near MIT.

Genzyme's building achieved instant world fame among architects in 2004 when it formally opened, mostly for its many so-called "green" features. The architect was Stefan Behnisch, based in Germany. Behnisch is also now the architect of Harvard's stem-cell laboratories in Allston.

I've always thought Genzyme was marvelous, probably the best office space ever created in or near Boston. But the Parker is administered by the Boston Society of Architects, which appoints a new selection jury each year. And as usual, this year's jurors fought over their choice.

They argued at length, says architect David Hacin, who chaired the jury, over the definition of the world "beautiful" (always a problem in architecture). Besides Genzyme, there were three other finalists: the Macallen Building, a condo complex in the shape of a dark mountain in South Boston, by Office dA; the Shapiro Campus Center, a student social center at Brandeis, by Charles Rose; and the new WGBH headquarters and studios in Brighton, by the New York firm the Polshek Partnership.

You can tell people disagree about architecture from the fact that none of last year's Parker runners-up - there were four - even made the finals this year. Last year's winner was the new Institute of Contemporary Art on the South Boston waterfront.

"We thought Genzyme has stood the test of time," says Hacin of the building, which opened five years ago. "When we visited, we were struck by the atmosphere indoors, especially in the atrium. It was like being on vacation. The air, which felt fresh and good, the quality of light, the buzz of activity. . . It was the atmospherics that put it over the top."

He adds, "There was also the subtext of its influence. It raised the bar for private-sector leadership in environmental design, and its influence on the new environmental regulations on buildings in Boston and Cambridge was exceptional."

When it opened, the Genzyme Center received a platinum rating, the highest LEED score (the letters stand for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), from the US Green Building Council. The council called it "one of the most environmentally responsible buildings in the country."

Genzyme is a 12-story building, with an exterior mostly of glass. It features a number of environmental ideas. Up on the roof, moving mirrors track the sun and direct its light down into the building's atrium, which rises the full height of the interior. A "chandelier" of translucent tiles hangs in the atrium, absorbing light and refocusing it elsewhere.

Computer-controlled window blinds open and close depending on the outdoor light level. Some energy is provided by waste steam from the nearby NSTAR power plant. There's a roof garden, there are solar panels, there are toilets you can choose to flush for high volume or low. Some of the building exterior is a double wall, two surfaces with a walkable space between, providing extra insulation.

What's most striking about Genzyme, though, is the way all these green initiatives work to make the place a physical and social delight. In and around the atrium, for example, there are 18 hanging gardens, all different. They not only generate oxygen, they ease the eye and offer restful places for quiet conversation. There are coffee kiosks on every floor. Eventually, a public restaurant will open at street level. A young Boston firm, Next Phase Studios, collaborated with Behnisch on the interiors.

Genzyme's developer was former Cambridge city councilor David Clem and his firm Lyme Properties. The building is one piece of a larger project built on a former industrial brownfield site. In a commendable attempt at quality, Clem worked with Toronto urban designer Ken Greenberg and landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh on the overall plan. He then organized architectural competitions for four of the individual buildings. In each case, several architects were paid to make designs from which a winner was chosen. (One, a biotech lab by California architect Steven Ehrlich, is itself a crisp architectural gem in buff ceramic tile and blue-green glass.)

Lyme has now sold the whole development. As a result, one of the best ideas, the extension into the site of an old industrial canal with a new boat launch, probably won't be implemented. A performance center, part of the initial plan, now seems doubtful in the current economy. But Harvard, MIT, and Mass. General are co-sponsoring new housing at the development's edge, and it's to be hoped that some day a busy mixed neighborhood will surround the Genzyme Center.

One more thing about sports. Sports is all about statistics, so here's just one on the Parker Medal. The architect who's won it the most often - five times - is the firm of Kallmann McKinnell & Wood. KMW is still active in Boston and designs, today, relatively conservative buildings. But KMW's first Parker, which arrived in 1969, was for Boston City Hall. And City Hall was recently nominated, by a travel agency nobody seems to have heard of before, as "the ugliest building in the world."

I guess we're still arguing over the meaning of "beauty." Globe architecture critic Robert Campbell can be reached at

Jan 2, 2008

Lyme Properties featured in "Graphic Essay: The Innovative Client," in ArchitectureBoston.

David Clem and Lyme Properties are featured in the November/December 2007 edition of ArchitectureBoston, which showcases their focus on excellent archtectural work at Kendall Square.The full article can be downloaded here.

Nov 23, 2007

Lewiston Sun Journal: Restoration Is Hitting All The Notes

Our View
Copyright: Lewiston Sun JournalNov 23, 2007 5:00 am
Original Article:

As projects go, restoring the Dominican Block is small potatoes for David Clem. For Lewiston-Auburn, however, the rebirth of this historic landmark is a six-course dinner.

Clem, whose son attends Bates College, was struck by the potential of the dormant Lincoln Street lady, whose peeling paint and air of abandonment belied her previous glory. In 1882, the Dominican Fathers constructed the grand edifice for its parish school in the burgeoning 19-year-old industrial city.

Later, the block became central to the vibrant Franco-American community of the neighborhood, smack between the triple-deckers of Little Canada and towering smokestacks of the mills. Its gradual descent into neglect reflected the changes of its surroundings, and the times.

Enter Clem, a developer with a noted reputation for "green" and "smart growth" projects around New England. When uttered by officials or politicians, these terms sound like idyllic slogans. Paired with substantial investment from a qualified benefactor, however, the potential becomes thrilling.

L-A is prime ground for developers like Clem. The cities have the raw materials for an architectural renaissance of the highest regard; our landmarks were built to last, not fall into irreparable gloom or emptiness.

The Bates Mill projects were massive undertakings, fueled by massive capital investments and equally massive prospective tenants. The Southern Gateway was a public-private partnership. Their momentum hasn't spread, however, into smaller, adjacent properties around downtown. Cost is the oft-cited reason.

Clem's work is showing what's possible. Yes, deep pockets help, but the other capital he's spending to renovate the Dominican Block is social. Clem bills the restoration as an exercise in civic engagement, his effort to strengthen the bonds between Bates and the community.

This latter point cannot be underestimated. Even tighter bonds between Bates and the community is of inestimable value, especially through something as strikingly visible as the Dominican Block renovation. Lewiston-Auburn really doesn't need another building competing for commercial tenants.

But it can use much more of this.

Maine has the institutional desire, but a paucity of incentives, for adaptive re-use of properties, given the immense cost compliance that modern building codes entail. Lawmakers are now endeavoring to remedy this situation, through policies like tax credits for developers.

Until then, it's up to trailblazers to show what vision, capital and strong community support can achieve.

Eric and Carrie Agren lit a spark with their restoration of Lyceum Hall. Clem is fanning these flames. (Though, as a trustee of the Berklee School of Music in Boston, he might prefer a more lyrical analogy: "I'm trying to play one small song in a whole concert in what it takes to revitalize a downtown," he says.)

So here's one: through this amazing effort, Clem can help L-A and Bates make beautiful music together.


Nov 1, 2007

Lyme Properties featured in "Graphic Essay: The Innovative Client," in ArchitectureBoston.

David Clem and Lyme Properties are featured in the November/December 2007 edition of ArchitectureBoston, which showcases their focus on excellent architectural work at Kendall Square. The full article can be downloaded here.


David Clem may have grown up in Texas, but Cambridge is where his heart is. He moved there in 1971 to attend MIT’s urban studies and planning school, got interested in community development, was elected to the city council at age 24, and in later years became a key player in the transformation of vacant manufacturing sites, including One Kendall Square. When in 1998 his firm, Lyme Properties, purchased a contaminated, 10-acre set of parking lots that was formerly home to a coal-gas manufacturing plant on Third Street in Kendall Square, he felt strongly that the area deserved top-quality architecture and urban design.

The challenge was to take a place of chain-link fences and parking lots, at the foot of the Longfellow Bridge and across from the Red Line MBTA station, and make it lively, useful, and interesting, while at the same time accommodating 1.3 million square feet of new office, commercial, and life-sciences laboratory space. So Clem decided to hold a series of design competitions for the multiple buildings and landscape opportunities at the site, today known simply as Kendall Square and home to the famously green, platinum LEED-rated Genzyme headquarters. The competitions, similar to those used in the Canary Wharf redevelopment in London, would stir creativity and innovation, Clem believed.

“Our canvas was clean,” Clem said of what might be described as the Cambridge version of Boston’s Fan Pier.“And I was intent on doing something in Cambridge that was not red brick with punched windows.”

The first step was convincing Cambridge officials to let Lyme apply its own design-review standards instead of the city’s. Then Clem hired Ken Greenberg of Toronto-based Urban Strategies to do the master plan. With help from colleague Dan Winny AIA, the Lyme team winnowed firms to a handful of finalists for each building, and paid a modest stipend and travel expenses to have them make presentations.

Several things happened, Clem said. Firms came calling from around the world, and were surprised and grateful that a developer was interested in urban design. The winners outdid themselves because their peers were working on the next site over. “It was something like assembling an all-star team of players. They all wanted to do their best,” Clem said. And some candidates flagged things the development team hadn’t thought about.

“If we were working in a vacuum, we couldn’t achieve this. The competition made us a better developer and made us understand our site.”

Independent juries were selected for each building, though Lyme stayed active in the process. This was helpful when a jury selected Steven Ehrlich Architects, who had not designed a lab before, for 675 West Kendall Street, home to Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Ehrlich was matched with local firm Symmes, Maini&McKee.“We made sure it was a design team that meshed,” Clem said.

The Lyme team chose Anshen + Allen (of San Francisco) for 650 East Kendall Street (now under construction) and Behnisch, Behnisch & Partner (Germany and LA) for 500 Kendall Street (the Genzyme headquarters). Other firms tapped were Childs Bertman Tseckares (Boston) for 100 Kendall Street (housing and a hotel), Architects Alliance (Toronto) for 450 Kendall Street (housing), and Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (NewYork/ Cambridge) for the landscape features, including a skating rink, plaza, and park that is home to concerts and a farmer’s market, and gardens beside the Broad Canal.“I’m a convert to the design-competition approach. But the competition doesn’t mean anything unless you implement it and build it,” Clem said.

“I think great architecture requires a great client, someone who is willing to pay more for quality and stick with it.” The rise of out-of-state real estate investment trusts and changes in development financing, he said, means that some prominent projects may not be as driven by a sense of civic responsibility.“ I see that sensitivity being lost.”

Clem won’t be running a new competition anytime soon, however. Lyme Properties has completed and sold its Kendall Squareproperties,with the exception of 585 Kendall Street (the Constellation Center, Glenn KnicKrehm’s performing-arts venue, designed by The Stubbins Associates [now KlingStubbins]). Clem himself is taking a break from the development business for the foreseeable future. “I’m just taking a breather,” he said, “and contemplating the next step.”

Anthony Flint is a Boston-based writer and director of public affairs at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, a think-tank in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Oct 23, 2007

Lewiston Sun Journal: 'A Labor of Love'

By Carol Coultas Business WriterCopyright: Lewiston Sun JournalOct 23, 2007 5:00 amOriginal Article:

LEWISTON - David Clem has done enough historic renovations to know a beauty when he sees one.

So when he first viewed the Dominican Block - the 4-story, Queen Anne building that has anchored the corner of Chestnut and Lincoln streets since 1882 - he could see its potential, especially the top-floor ballroom.

Even though he was looking at it in 2 feet of pigeon poop.

"The craftsmanship in the corbelling, the brickwork, granite, cast iron ... it's just a well-built structure," said Clem, founder of the development firm Lyme Properties in Hanover, N.H. "When I walked into the top floor, well, that's what really grabbed me."

It wasn't just the building's "extraordinary bones" that grabbed Clem, but the chance to embark on a project that would preserve a significant piece of Lewiston's history and demonstrate civic responsibility between a private developer and community.

"I'm trying to play one small song in a whole concert in what it takes to revitalize a downtown," Clem said.

The building was first a parish school, then a community center for the thousands of Francos who stepped off the train at the nearby Grand Trunk Railroad into new lives in Lewiston's mills. The first floor was dedicated to retail, with classrooms on the second and third, and the top floor, an expansive ballroom was used for community gatherings. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.


'A role to play'

Clem discovered the building with his son, a student at Bates College. Inspired by the college's attempts to foster a better relationship between town and gown, Clem thought preserving and renovating the Dominican Block would be his way of demonstrating civic engagement from the private sector.

"There was a role to play, helping revitalize the downtown and expand the relationship between Bates and the city," he said.

It's an issue near to his heart, having served as a city councilor in Cambridge while attending graduate school in urban studies and planning at MIT. Somewhere along the line he got bit by the bug - "a disease really" he said - to renovate old, historic buildings. More than 20 years ago, he and his partners renovated a complex of 21 mill buildings on 12 acres in Cambridge.

Since then, he's been involved in many projects, including the restoration of Fort McKinley on Great Diamond Island. He prides himself on the quality of the work, inspired to rise to the level of the original craftsmen.

"If you care about old buildings as I do, the excitement is to live up to the original standards," he said.

He seems to be doing just that, said Gil Arsenault, city planning director, who has called Clem's project "first-class."

"As far as I'm concerned, he's a hero," Arsenault said. The building had been vacant for years after its last long-term tenant, a local drum and bugle corps, left it. It deteriorated to the point where bricks were falling out of the facade and Arsenault said he was afraid the building would have to come down.

Then Clem appeared.

"I'm very impressed ... it's nice space," said Arsenault, who toured the building a couple of weeks ago.

Clem is hoping others will be glad to see the Dominican Block alive again. He intends to solicit memories and photos from people who have a connection to the building. But first, he's knee deep into the renovation. He expects the first floor will house retail space and perhaps a restaurant, offices on the second and third floors, and performance space on the top.

But the specifics are still up in the air. Clem acknowledges that he's going about this project backward - starting with the renovation and then considering the market. He intends to apply for federal historic tax credits, which return about 20 cents on the dollar in income tax credits to help offset the project's cost.

"Essentially, to renovate this building to a standard I'm comfortable with is uneconomic," he said. "The market conditions in Lewiston mean it doesn't pay for itself."

Clem declined to reveal how much he's already sunk into the renovation, but the building permit to construct just the elevator shaft and stairway carried an almost $1 million price tag. Luckily, Lyme Properties also builds state-of-the-art research laboratories, Clem's "day job" that allows him to indulge his love of historic adaptation and restoration.

In order to qualify for the tax credits, the renovation must meet standards designated by the historic preservation commission. Those requirements sometimes conflict with modern building codes for handicap accessibility and other life-safety requirements. That means negotiating between various regulatory agencies - a frustrating, but familiar challenge for Clem.

"I've done a significant number of these, so I'm not overwhelmed," he said.

Crews should finish the roof repairs by the end of the month, and if the weather holds, have the exterior buttoned up so they can begin interior renovations through the winter. Plans call for preserving and restoring the original windows that front Lincoln Street and installing high-quality replicas in the other three sides. Modern sprinkler, evacuation and HVAC systems will also be installed.

If all goes according to plan, Clem hopes to have the building available for tenant fit-up in 2009. But he's taking it one day at time.

"Right now, the Lewiston block is a labor of love, not of economics," he said.