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Former police station will get postmodern makeover if team gets nod to develop

It's just an old, abandoned South End police station, but one of the eight development teams vying to build residences at 7 Warren Ave. plans to give the building a flashy interior and a worldwide reputation. Local developer Kamran Zahedi, president of Urbanica Inc., is teaming with French designer Philippe Starck, known for his unsubtle looks in everything from toothbrushes to motorcylces, to turn the former Area D police station into 24 head-turning condominiums -- built around a towering 30-by-50 foot, glass-ceiling atrium.

No Boston police officer or suspect who ever crossed the threshold of the U-shaped building, bounded by Berkeley and Gray streets, could have imagined what Starck and loft specialist John Hitchcox, his partner in the London-based design and development firm Yoo Ltd., have in mind for this traditional red-brick structure.

On Sept. 9, the Boston Redevelopment Authority will hold a community meeting on the eight development proposals that have been submitted for the old police station. Prices are undetermined but the building is in a high rent district, right across the street from Atelier/505, developer Ronald M. Druker's contribution to luxury residences in the South End.

The entry of a high-profile post-modern design guru like Starck would be unusual for Boston, better known for its staid architecture and historical references even in new construction.

In documents filed recently with the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the pair and their partners in D4 Development LP propose to fill in the perimeter of the building on Gray Street, creating four floors of 800- to 1,600-square-foot residences. The units would surround a courtyard lushly landscaped with ivy and citrus trees, covered but with fresh air piped in on nice days to rustle the leaves.

The developers hope to lure buyers with the cachet of a historic building updated by Starck, famous for his walk-on-the-wild-side product design -- including a line of home furnishings sold at Target stores -- as well as chic hotels like New York's Royalton, Miami Beach's Delano, Los Angeles's Mondrian and London's Sanderson.

Buyers would be able to choose their own interior design and even a line of furnishings from the four established themes -- Nature, Classical, Minimal, or Culture -- offered in other Yoo Ltd. residential renovations of historic buildings in England and elsewhere.

"Lofts are typically raw spaces -- it requires someone to design something," said Stephen Chung, design partner of Urbanica, which is just finishing a new Mercantile Bank and Trust Co. branch at nearby Rollins Square on Washington Street in the South End.

Rather than hire their own designer, some buyers prefer purchasing something that is ready-made, knowable, and widely admired, he said.

"They're buying a Philippe Starck product," Chung said. "There's comfort there, and not only comfort but excitement. He's famous for a reason."

The main architect for the D4 Development team is Frederick A. Stahl of Burt Hill Kosar Rittelmann Associates, which was involved with restoration of the Old South Meeting House.

Starck and Hitchcox are bringing their angular shapes, dramatic colors, and unconventional feel to the US residential market for the first time with Icon, a 42-story residence in Miami's South Beach.

Boston, if they are successful, would make only their third project in the United States, joining a development in its early stages in New York. The partnership has 2,500 units under construction worldwide.

Unlike the Boston project, many of Yoo Ltd.'s projects are in historic industrial buildings, where reinvigorating the neighborhood is part of the task.

"This is one great building to work on in a well-developed neighborhood," Hitchcox said yesterday, in a telephone interview from Spain. "It's a young and interesting and vibrant neighborhood. It fits in very well with our design philosophy."

The city's preference for the redevelopment of the police station was that the existing building be maintained and be used for residences. The proposals ranged from about 17 large luxury units to 35 considerably smaller ones.

Other teams that submitted proposals were: Hines Raymond LLC, New Boston Housing Enterprises, Trinity Financial Inc., Wabash Construction, Sea/Dar, Orange Street Partners, and the Abbey Group.

Chung said Zahedi was "waiting for the right opportunity" to bring Yoo Ltd.'s distinct design tastes to Boston.

"He's been monitoring their progress for the last couple of years," Chung said. "They're approached by developers around the world all the time."

But Hitchcox said the grand piece of the police station, the atrium, wouldn't quite match what either he or Starck has done on their hotel projects.

"Hotels are a piece of drama, where people are going to stay for a couple of days," he said. "Where people are going to live for a long time, it's more conservative, but still with a strong design interest."

Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached at

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