It’s hard to associate the term “utility” with buildings so beautiful, but for nearly a century The Waterworks was all about business, providing water to the city of Boston. Two of its three structures housed brawny steam-powered pumps, while a third, the former Operations Building, served as a carriage house.

Now converted for residential use, the site has become a model for redevelopment incorporating mixed housing types. One 53,000-square-foot pump station has been carved into 16 flats and four townhouses; the other, at 37,000 square feet, boasts four condos and a museum; and the 10,000-square-foot carriage house has been recast as five flats and two townhouses.

Like magic? Not exactly.

The neighbors had cause for concern, given the buildings were embedded in an urban community, close to public transit, a reservoir, and an Olmsted Brothers park. After the pumps were decommissioned in the ’70s, the vacant buildings became an unsafe barrier between a residential neighborhood and the walking paths of the reservoir. The transformation of the buildings had to be just right.

Add to that stringent adaptive reuse guidelines that made it next to impossible to create units that worked, notes project architect Matt Formicola. “The Boston Redevelopment Authority didn’t let us punch any windows in the buildings. I had nightmares about this: How can we do this without windows?”

Getting light and air into the residences was tricky, and here’s where the architects got ingenious, particularly in one of the former pump stations. The solution involved nesting a new structure inside its northwest wing, behind the original exterior wall. Faced in unfinished cedar siding, the new building is set back from the original historic façade to form an interior courtyard, allowing for light-filled units. Expansive windows provide views to the private courtyard and the reservoir beyond.

Category: Adaptive re-use project
Entrant/Architect: GUND Partnership, Cambridge, Mass.
Builders: Suffolk Construction, Boston; Northeast Interiors, Braintree, Mass.
Developers: Diamond Sinacori, Boston; EA Fish Associates, Braintree
Landscape architect: Brown, Richardson & Rowe, Boston