Janis Mamayek

Title: Principal, Director of Architecture, ICON Architecture

Experience: 32 years

Janis Mamayek works with developers to unlock the potential of existing buildings in her role as head of the “Renew” practice at Boston-based ICON Architecture. The firm designed the Distillery North apartments in South Boston, using passive house techniques to maximize sustainability and reduce energy consumption 60 percent from conventional construction, and recently completed an assessment of more than 40 municipal buildings in Cambridge.

Q: What prompted your interest in architecture as a career?

A: Just being able to control the environment you live in. Often times we’re not in control, but architecture provided a path. As a high school student, I said, “I like art and math, and marrying those up.” I tend to be more on the technical side, but there’s always an interested in the creative.

Q:What’s the focus of ICON’s Renew practice?

A: It’s the convergence of an interest in historic preservation [with] sustainability. You don’t need to expend effort tearing down (buildings) when you’ve got some good bones. It includes repair, total rehab and some projects that are reacting to code changes. There are opportunities borne out of increasing energy efficiency and repositioning for the market. There’s all different motivators for someone to renew existing assets.

A lot of my efforts have been on the housing side. Often people think of preservation as historic, but it’s really about preservation of existing buildings. And housing stock in Boston is so critical, and the affordability. I’ve got a number of occupied rehabs that are doing that, scattered sites in Dorchester and Roxbury.

North Point LoftsQ:What code changes specifically are prompting a lot of building work?

A: Accessibility is a driver, and an inherent problem with our accessibility code is how it’s driven by 30 percent of the assessed value. If new construction or rehab dollars are greater than 30 percent, you’re triggered to bring up to full accessibility. In some of the older structures, that’s a real hurdle, particularly when you’re in a Gateway City or some of the neighborhoods of Boston. You can trigger that 30 percent in no time.

Q:How did your designs for the Distillery North apartments in South Boston incorporate passive house energy-saving strategies?

A: A passive house is passive by nature, suggesting you’re not buying into a lot of bells and whistles. It’s energy savings that can be done with fairly straightforward approaches. There’s a lot of attention to detail but it’s not mechanical or systems-driven. It’s insulating or sealing up those buildings really tight: some basic things that don’t have to be reflected in operating costs.

Q:What’s the history of the North Point Lofts property, which ICON designed as a conversion into microapartments?

A: That was the old Maple Leaf sausage factory, a cute little 60,000-square-foot warehouse tucked between all of these new high-rises. And yet, like many buildings, it would cost more to tear it down. That’s why the city of Cambridge wanted to keep it there. They supported the redevelopment plan. We got 103 microunits in there with these big mushroom columns, and the concrete facade was cleaned up. That was a really fun project: the exposed concrete and the open ceilings.

At the Convergence of Preservation and Sustainability

by Steve Adams time to read: 2 min