How the Architecture Committee Works
Our committee is advisory. Our job is to convey the residents’ perspective to the Commission, not to make decisions about applications. Our goal is to preserve our neighborhood as a vibrant residential area, adapting our historic buildings to contemporary needs without sacrificing the original material that makes the area so special.
We deal with the exteriors of buildings, with gardens and trees, with parking spaces, with air conditioning—pretty much anything visible from the street or from a window. We try to improve on changes that occurred before the Commission was established in 1966, and before it was given jurisdiction over the alleys in 1981. Over the years we have worked with the Commission to develop guidelines regarding such things as solar panels, air conditioners, electric car chargers, and tree removal. Our tasks change with the demands of the times, but our commitment to improvement of our district through preservation is constant.
In the commercial district we work with business owners and developers to adapt existing structures to the needs of retail and other commercial uses without destroying or overpowering the original architecture.
We may have architects and preservationists on the committee, but many of us have simply learned by doing. The only criteria for membership in the committee are membership in NABB, residence in the Back Bay, an interest in the built environment, and an interest in learning more about it. Our monthly meetings are generally held on the first Tuesday of each month in the evening. New members are always welcome; If you are interested in joining, contact architecture@NABBonline.org.
Every month we go through the Back Bay Architectural Commission’s (BBAC’s) agenda to see what projects are most important in terms of size, impact, or precedent. We invite the architects to our meeting and ask them questions. We invite abutting NABB members as well, to get their reactions to the proposal. We research historical precedents and any other regulations that may apply and generally do site visits to see how the new project will fit in with its neighbors. Then we present written comments to the Commission. We also attend the BBAC hearing and comment verbally when appropriate. Generally, we will see three or four projects, and we try to spot problems and help the architect revise the proposal so that their presentation to the BBAC will be successful.
We also work with the Development Committee to review projects that are within the Architectural District.
Finally, in addition to following the BBAC applications, we are charged with reviewing any Back Bay zoning applications that involve the buildings’ form, such as height setback. Fortunately, we do not have many applications in Back Bay, largely because the city has generally supported NABB’s opposition to significant variances.