The W

by Van-Tuong Nguyen (MDes REBE ’18), Carla Wijaya (MAUD ’18) and Maxime Faure (MAUD ’18) — Recipients of 2017 second Plimpton-Poorvu Design Prize

The proposed W mixed-use housing development on Boston’s North End waterfront bridges old and new communities in the city’s densest historic neighborhood. It provides housing for an increasingly transient population—including young newcomers and single householders. It repurposes land in a land-scarce neighborhood to create an urban park connection to and across the waterfront.

The parcel, currently owned by the United States Government and occupied by the United States Coast Guard, presents an opportunity to transform a disruption in the urban experience of the harbor walk to a public amenity. Through the United States General Services Administration (USGSA) land disposition strategy, the parcel may be reinvested for a higher and better use; the existing outfit may be relocated and consolidated with the sister location on the East Boston waterfront.

In return for the land subsidy, the W development provides a more urban and resilient waterfront design that would alleviate the housing shortage in the North End and provide an accessible platform of neighborhood vitality. The W breathes fresh life into the North End, providing neighborhood amenities in addition to micro-housing rental units, for-sale condominiums, restaurants, and retail—all united on an urban park that increases the value of the site.

The financial strategy takes advantage of housing and entitlement subsidies and is supplemented by condominium and parking structure sales. Our financial analysis illustrates that the project’s feasibility largely depends on the land cost—that while a conventional unsubsidized development yields fair returns, a subsidized public-private model yields both better financial returns and higher net public value.