Yesterday I joined a tour of the still-under-construction Western Avenue Lofts at 150 Western Avenue in Lowell. Adjacent to the better-known Western Avenue Studios, Western Avenue Lofts is a two-story brick building bordering the Pawtucket Canal that is being transformed into 50 rental live/work spaces for artists. The building is long and narrow and so each unit gets a huge 22 feet wide by 7 feet high window that faces either north (Western Avenue side) or south (Pawtucket Canal side). Because the building’s footprint is not strictly rectangular, the size of the units vary but most are about 1500 square feet in size. To maximize the ability of occupants to customize their individual spaces, only bathrooms and kitchens are being installed in a uniform way (they are all along the wall that borders the central hallway). Other than that, the artists can subdivide (or not) their spaces, carving out bedrooms, storage areas, raised floors, whatever.
The second floor spaces are dominated by the high “sawtooth” roof that raises the interior ceilings, already a high 14 feet on the first floor, up to 22 feet in some of the second floor units, providing the opportunity to construct in-unit lofts or to leave open and as spacious as any living quarters in the city.
Unlike most rental units, these are designed and intended for the tenants to customize the appearance, particularly the paint scheme and wall treatments. The developers clearly understand and embrace the creativity of the artist-occupants. Other interesting amenities include roof-top solar panels that will provide part of the building’s electricity and a common garden stretching along the bank of the canal.
It’s my understanding that commitments already exist for more than half the fifty units of this building which is to be ready for occupancy this May. More information is available at www.westeravenuelofts.com. The video below contains pictures I took during the tour.
The Western Avenue Lofts concept is an intriguing one. Many of those on the tour were tenants-to-be who proudly showed off their as-yet skeletal units, speaking with pride and enthusiasm of their plans for their respective spaces. That many already knew each other well gave it a college dorm for grownups feel in the best sense of that image. With all the recent talk of unruly late night visitors to downtown, the relative isolation of the Western Avenue space seems like an asset. As our country’s living patterns undergo a shift away from suburbia and back towards city-living, and away from universal home ownership to more varied and flexible rental arrangements, the Western Avenue Lofts project could serve as a model for future developments in the city’s neighborhoods.