- Jennifer Popovec

It was once called “the scariest building in North America.” Opened in 1878, the Danvers Lunatic Asylum in suburban Boston has long been one of the area's most prominent and recognizable landmarks. The hospital was an imposing structure with steep double gables, deeply pitched roofs, Danvers brick, and granite lintels.

“While everyone was talking about the building itself, the first thing I noticed was the view—that's what really captured my interest,” says Scott Dale, vice president of development for Washington, D.C.-based AvalonBay Communities. The site, situated on 75 acres atop Hathorne Hill, offered 360-degree views of Boston's North Shore—something that AvalonBay thought would have plenty of appeal as a residential community.

Today, the hospital has been transformed into a vibrant residential community with 433 high-end apartments in 12 separate buildings. The complete transformation, however, took seven years and plenty of creativity from AvalonBay's development team.

With the help of Boston-based design firm The Architectural Team, AvalonBay salvaged and renovated a significant portion of the main building—the hospital's administrative wing known as the Kirkbridge building. However, it demolished the surrounding hospital campus to make room for newly constructed buildings.

“The hospital's architecture was very overpowering—very institutional and not conducive to residential living,” Dale says. “We had [to strike] a balancing act between preservation and transformation.”

The Kirkbridge building, with its Gothic architecture, inspired the design for the entire community. “Rather than downplay the design, we decided to highlight it and make it part of every building,” Dale says. Materials such as brick and stone were chosen to simulate and complement the Kirkbridge building, which retained its prominence as the natural focal point and hub of activity for the new community, which is 90 percent occupied and attracting a variety of residents, from single professionals to families and empty nesters.

The renovated 105,000-square-foot Kirkbridge building houses the leasing center as well as common area amenities such as an Internet café, resident lounge, fitness center, indoor basketball court, and heated outdoor pool. It also houses 61 apartments with 31 different floor plans.

Fast Facts

Developer: AvalonBay Communities

Architect: The Architectural Team

Opened: June 2008

No. of Units: 433

Unit Mix: One-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments

Rents: $1,200 to $1,975

Judge's Verdict “AVALON DANVERS IS A VERY DRAMATIC PROJECT. THE BEFORE AND AFTER SAYS IT ALL.” —Eileen Lee, vice president of environment, National Multi Housing Council