David Hacin, FAIA, is founding principal and president of Hacin + Associates (H+A), based in Boston. The firm, founded in 1993, has roots in private residential design and, over time, has taken on an increasing amount of commercial work in a sometimes vexing market. Boston has unique zoning restrictions aimed at protecting the character of the city’s distinct neighborhoods while promoting forward-looking designs. Prataap Patrose, deputy director for urban design at the Boston Redevelopment Authority, speaks to the architectural richness of the city. “Context is rich in Boston, and it often varies dramatically from one block to the next and one street to the next,” he says.
According to Patrose, Hacin is especially adept at respecting Boston’s unique character while making contemporary interventions in keeping with the city’s progressive inclinations.
“If you’re trying to build in Boston, architects often do one of two things,” he says. “They can be slavish about historicism or they can create unique forms for the sake of being different. David does something much more difficult. His designs always take the context and reinterpret it. His designs are both unabashedly contemporary and responsive.”
Hacin’s Boston is experiencing an urban renaissance with a growing population that’s driven by an influx of downsizing baby boomers and city-loving Millennials.
“We’re seeing a much greater emphasis on the demand side, whether within the city of Boston or in areas within the 128 Beltway,” says Daniel St. Clair, managing director at Spaulding & Slye Investments, also one of Hacin’s clients and current chair of the ULI Boston/New England District Council. “People are drawn to places connected to transit, with a mix of uses and a sense of place.” But strong demand and limited supply are pushing up the cost of housing very dramatically. Only New York and San Francisco have higher rents than Greater Boston among a set of 19 comparable regions, according to the Boston Foundation’s 2013 Greater Boston Housing Report Card. Workforce housing continues to be scarce.
Boston’s new mayor, Marty Walsh, has also expressed an interest in increasing the production of middle-income housing in the city. Among other things, he’s investigating streamlining the complex approval process for construction projects. Hacin is hopeful about this prospect, especially because the approval process is one of the factors driving up the cost of housing in Boston. Although H+A is working on two rental housing projects now, the firm has traditionally done more work in the ownership market. In addition to rental properties, H+A is working on several condominium projects catering to different income levels. Not surprisingly, Hacin is excited to see a renewed focus on building for sale. “As rents go so high, homeownership will become more appealing, and it will also help create more stable communities here,” Hacin says.
The Land Problem
Land is undeniably scarce in Boston. Beyond infill development, Hacin says new development initiatives—such as the Greenway, the area around Fenway Park, and the Innovation District, where Hacin’s firm recently completed District Hall, the first freestanding city-sponsored innovation center of its kind—have put formerly undesirable sites back in play.
This is fortunate for Hacin, as his firm has a knack for rethinking neighborhoods and helping create new environments. “Our practice is often hired to build the first residential building in a neighborhood that was not residential, or to build something that no one had considered before. And when we’re done, a flood of new development usually follows,” he says.
“In Boston, having the credibility that comes with being a part of the community is very helpful,” says Hacin, who was president of his neighborhood association before he started working in the South End. Noting that Boston can be a difficult market for out-of-towners, Hacin regrets that the city might at times be missing out on external expertise but knows there’s a reason for the local bias. “People here want you to know the community if you’re going to be changing it, and I understand that dynamic,” he says.
Hacin says his firm today is operating like a well-oiled machine, and he sees Boston as a city ripe with opportunity. “Right now there’s no question the city is doing very, very well,” he says. “And it’s ironic, because you don’t have to go very far from Boston to see a very different economic landscape.”
Hacin sees hope in the extension of the Boston “T” subway system’s Green Line, which will connect Somerville and Medford, (municipalities within the Boston metropolitan area). “Everyone wants to live in downtown Boston, but within 45 minutes of Boston are really fantastic communities—towns that have been left behind and could participate more in what’s happening in Boston and at the same time provide a pressure-release valve to the extraordinary housing costs we have here,” he says.