Old Colony

South Boston, MA
Extreme Affordable Housing Makeover: Master Planning Boston’s Oldest Housing Development

Originally constructed in 1940, Old Colony is one of the oldest federal public housing developments in the country, and until recently, was one of the most distressed properties in the Boston Housing Authority’s (BHA’s) portfolio. Petersen Engineering partnered with Beacon Communities and The Architectural Team to redevelop 781 units in five phases, over a 10-year period. To date, the design has been completed for the first three phases, which will result in a total of 572 new apartment units to replace the former, blighted structures.

This project reflects the evolution of leading-edge building standards over the past decade. Early phases were constructed to meet various LEED standards. Phase 3 included one building that pursued Passive House certification. Petersen is currently designing MEP/FP systems and providing Passive House modeling and expertise for Phases 4 and 5, for a total of 209 additional units.


A neighborhood-scale, multi-building, multi-phased project like Old Colony presents massive logistical challenges. Given Old Colony’s history and the critical need it fills for the community, this project faced close scrutiny, and involved painstaking coordination with the City of Boston and state agencies to ensure the availability of Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) approval and funding. The need to work around an existing infrastructure, a school and community center, keeping them occupied and accessible throughout the project further amplified this challenge.


For over a decade Petersen has coordinated closely with the project team on phasing to minimize disruption to residents, to upgrade the steam plant and steam distribution to heat existing buildings while new buildings were under construction. Electrical site coordination has also been intensive under the master plan, requiring close utility coordination to accompany the construction of new city streets.


This project is a prime example of how high-performance mechanical systems have evolved over the past 10 years. Phases 1 and 2 were constructed with similar approaches, Phases 3 and 4 involved Petersen Engineering adapting to new technology to meet the needs of the owners and the tenants. In each case, we worked diligently to balance exceptional ventilation, indoor air quality, durability, and occupant comfort.


Voted Best Urban Project in the nation by Affordable Housing Finance 2012

Old Colony Phase 1 Photos and Renderings
Renderings Credit: The Architectural Team
Photo Credits: Andy Ryan Photography

Project Details


Beacon Communities


The Architectural Team


5 phases of design and construction starting in 2010

Services Provided by Petersen Engineering

MEP/FP Services, Passive House modeling and consulting

Petersen Team Members
Sarah Carter, PE, Hung Ming (Jason) Ngai, PE, Keirstan Field, EIT, Michael Trickett, PE