There’s another Caffe Nero on the way, and this time the company will caffeinate students on the campus of Boston University. The London-based coffee chain continues to expand its presence in Massachusetts with this next shop, which will occupy space in a new building on Commonwealth Avenue that currently houses BU students, according to the company’s director for U.S. operations, Jay Gentile.

The new building that will house Caffe Nero at 1047 Comm. Ave. is situated between an Eastern Mountain Sports store and Planned Parenthood, near the Star Market at Packard’s Corner. Other cafe-style spots nearby include Blue State Coffee a few storefronts down and Angora Cafe across the street.

Caffe Nero has more than 600 locations in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and it has seen tremendous growth in Massachusetts within the last year. There are now 11 Caffe Nero locations operating in the area, and the BU shop is set to join the mix late in the spring or early this summer.

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1047 Commonwealth Ave. is the first all micro-unit building in Boston. The building is currently under lease by BU as a dorm. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

We talk about the Massachusetts housing crunch a lot. And we've had a parade of economists on who say that the only long term solution to bringing high housing costs under control is to build more! And some of those housing experts say that some of those new units should be micro units — those around just 350 square feet.

What would it be like to live in one of these units? We recently visited Boston's first and only all-micro-unit housing complex to find out.

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WASHINGTON, March 13— They look neither legendary nor remarkable, but simply middle-aged and neatly dressed. They sit at the switchboard for eight hours each day -more during international crises and snowstorms - and, with a practiced note of friendly firmness in their voice, answer each phone call, ''White House.''

But in Washington the operators and the job they do have taken on legendary trappings. Folklore has it that the White House operators, currently 18 women and two men, some of them there since the Truman Administration, can track down absolutely anyone, no matter how obscure, distant or determined not to be reached.

President Kennedy once demonstrated that point by ordering the operators to find a staffer who, unbeknownst to them, was standing at the President's elbow in the Oval Office. The man was located within minutes. President Eisenhower once had to speak to Clarence Randall, a consultant who was deep-sea fishing. The operators asked someone to nail a note to a tree near his landing spot, and when he came ashore he saw it and called the White House. President Johnson boasted that the operators could find anybody, ''if he's living.''

That, the operators say with quiet modesty, is not far from the truth.

The operators work in a sub-basement suite of the Old Executive Office Building, next door to the White House. The switchboard room is locked. All visitors must be cleared.

The suite is simply furnished and cheery. A large picture of President Reagan posing with all 20 operators takes up one wall. Autographed glossies of Bob Hope and the actor Tom Selleck hang on another. The small room is almost completely filled by the 10-position Western Electric switchboard. It is the old-fashioned kind, with operators using black and red wires that plug into holes corresponding to the 5,000 telephones within the White House complex. The board has been in use since l963, when it was installed to handle the heavy flow of calls that followed the Kennedy assassination. It is ''somewhat outdated,'' according to John F.W. Rogers, Deputy Assistant to the President for Management.

The White House has no plans to update the hardware, however. The current board allows the operators to see who is talking to whom, information that is vital when the President wants to interrupt a call. More advanced systems simply flash numbers on a screen, said Mr. Rogers, preventing operators from keeping track of who is on which line.

Somewhere in the office are the file cabinets full of the thousands of private numbers the operators use to locate their prey. The precise location of the cabinets is a secret, as are their number and the color of the cards on which the numbers are printed. People give them those numbers with the guarantee that they will be kept confidential, the operators say, and they are.

In fact, not even former Presidents can breach the security of the phone room. When former President Carter left office two years ago, his secretary, Susan Clough, called the switchboard and asked for certain numbers so that the President could keep in touch with other world leaders via their private lines. The request was denied. A compromise was reached allowing the former President to call the switchboard whenever he needed help in locating someone, an arrangement Miss Clough says he uses to full advantage.

''I had just moved back to Washington,'' she said, ''and my phone in my new apartment had been connected less than an hour when it rang. It was a White House operator.'' Mr. Carter had called from Atlanta and asked the switchboard to find Miss Clough. ''I asked her how she did it,'' Miss Clough said of the White House operator, ''but she just laughed.''

The phone number files aren't the only closely guarded secret in the switchboard office. The operators agreed to be interviewed only if their names were not used and if they were not asked questions about the current Administration. Their professional techniques, such as how they verify whether a call is legitimate and the proceedure they follow in the event of threatening calls, are secret. How they voted in the last election is also secret, but for different reasons.

Unraveled and laid end to end, the circuitry in the White House switching room would circle the world two and a half times. One and a half million calls a day (17 each second) go through the White House, the Executive Office Buildings and 15 other affiliated buildings, about the normal rate for a city of 70,000 people.

Telephones are so integral a part of the White House that it is hard to imagine that the building once existed without them. The President is never far from a phone, with sets strategically placed in the hallways so he can reach and be reached even as he walks from room to room. The White House phone bill for equipment and local calls alone averages $39,000 each month.

Actually, there are two switchboards serving the President, the regular White House board and the Signal board, manned by the military and used mostly for overseas calls. The Signal Corps sets up all communication for President Reagan when he travels, equipping every boat, plane, car, hotel - anyplace the President might conceivably be - with phones that can automatically connect with the White House.

Not all Presidents used the Signal Corps for this purpose, however. President Johnson, disturbed by the sound of a male Signal Corps officer saying ''Number, please'' insisted that the female White House operators come along to place his calls while he traveled.

''They all work hard, they're all nice to us,'' said one operator of the Presidents who have passed through the White House during her tenure. Most of the operators have been there at least since the Nixon years, some much longer. None could think of a President she didn't like. All said they tended to vote for the incumbent, because they became attached to the man in office and his family. President Johnson used the phone the most, they say, talking from dawn until past midnight. President Kennedy could tell one voice from another, often asking after operators he hadn't spoken to for a time.

Perhaps the best-known tale of the White House switchboard involves Mary Burns, now retired, and a conversation with President Kennedy's daughter, Caroline. One December, Mrs. Burns was on the board alone when the little girl got on and asked to be connected with Santa Claus. Mrs. Burns ran down the hall and drafted a repairman to do some play-acting. Minutes later, the President called down with his thanks.

The operators stress that they never know why a call is being placed, and, of course, they never ask. They read it in the papers the next day. Often they are the last to know about a dramatic event, realizing what is going on as their switchboard, connected to the number 202-456-1414, lights up in response. The day of President Nixon's resignation they answered 102,000 calls. When the rescue mission in Iran failed, extra operators were put on duty in the middle of the night.

''The board lights up every hour on the hour, in time with the hourly newscast on the radio,'' said one operator. ''You can tell when people are listening to the news.''

The operators don't argue with irate callers, but they never put them through to the President either. ''We usually tell people the President is tied up right now but we'll take a message,'' they say. They do not accept collect calls.

Even when the White House operators fail to get their man, they do so with the panache of which legends are made. The only such case to which the operators have been known to admit occurred in the Eisenhower Administration. According to the current chief operator, who started work at the White House when Harry S. Truman was in office, the President asked to speak with Sherman Adams, then Assistant to the President, who was traveling by car in New Hampshire.

The operators found out his approximate route, contacted a nearby farmer and asked them to watch for a blue Oldsmobile with New Hampshire license plate No. 22. The farmer spotted the car and tried to flag it down, but Mr. Adams didn't stop, and didn't speak to the President until later in the day.

Illustrations: photo of Whitehouse switchboard

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Located next to the Porter Square stop on the MBTA Red Line, the project includes 20 residential units with off-street parking and 5,000 sf of prime retail space.
The new condominium building in Porter Square looks a lot like many other new condo buildings: Three floors of units above retail storefronts. And the prices — starting at $600,000 for a one-bedroom — are pretty typical for new construction in Cambridge.But the way the Rand at Porter was put together is something different.

The building’s 20 units were constructed individually at a factory in Maine, trucked to a church parking lot in Arlington, and then stacked atop a base podium along Massachusetts Avenue over the course of one busy weekend in March.

“If you went away for the weekend, you came back and there was a building there,” said Paul Ognibene, chief executive of developer Urban Spaces LLC.

So-called “modular” construction has long been common for single-family tract homes in the suburbs, but less used on condos and apartments in a dense place like the core of Greater Boston. Urban Spaces used the same technique on a building in Reading, and projects in Chelsea and West Cambridge have been modular-built in recent years. But they are still relatively rare, for a number of reasons, including the false perception that prefab buildings are poorly made, a shortage of factories in New England that build modular apartments, and pushback from construction unions.

But for the Rand, it made sense, Ognibene said.


From the first box to the last, the building was set in just four days.

The development sits on a tight site between residential blocks and a busy stretch of Mass. Ave. Doing much of the work off-site minimized the complications of getting equipment and materials in and out of close quarters, and shaved months off the construction schedule. In the end, it’s not actually much cheaper to go modular, Ognibene said. But it’s a lot faster, in part because work could be done on the foundation — in Cambridge — and the units themselves — in Maine — at the same time.

“We just had to get them down here,” Ognibene said. “That took very precise planning.”

Once the units were on site, the finishing work took a few more months. It included installing electrical wiring, plumbing, and other systems, as well as installing the exterior façade. Then it was time for the sales pitches. Once would-be buyers got over their “I don’t want a tract home” feelings, Ognibene said, the condos went fast. With the building set to open in December, 18 of the 20 units already are sold.

Time-lapse: The building process

Watch: A modular build


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Or take a virtual reality tour of our Rand project here:

The Rand

It’s not easy to create a new neighborhood in a dense, older city like Cambridge. But Urban Spaces CEO Paul Ognibene is doing just that. Next month, he’s starting construction on Phase 1 of a four-building complex in a district becoming known as The First Street Corridor.


Not so long ago, Urban Spaces assembled eight parcels between Kendall and Lechmere squares. Along this strip Paul, the keynote speaker at Bisnow’s The Future of Cambridge Real Estate event next week, is doing a mixed-use complex with offices, housing and retail.

urban spaces

So far, the amazing growth in Cambridge has concentrated on Kendall Square and Alewife. Now, what Paul calls the "Echo Boom" is filtering development into other locations like First Street, Lechmere and Porter Square. The projects are being fueled by the activity and employment generated by the city’s universities, life sciences industry and hospitals, Paul says. In the First Street Corridor, he and Michaels Development completed a 115-unit multifamily building about a year ago. In a few weeks, Urban Spaces will start building 121 First (rendering above), a $50M, 60k SF office with 10k SF of ground-floor retail.

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If you’ve ever thought about turning your regular home into a smart home, you probably discovered that finding features and devices that are right for your living space can be a daunting project. I wish I could write a one-size-fits-all blog post that would answer all your questions and ease every concern. But even though that’s impossible, I believe there is value in sharing with you some of my favorite home automation features, which I think would make any home a smarter one.

While the home automation market is growing larger and more diverse, most home automation devices can be grouped into one of the following categories: (1) Security & Access, (2) Energy Efficiency & Lighting, and (3) Non-Smart Device Control.

In the Security & Access category, smart locks have quickly been gaining popularity. This isn’t surprising since smart locks can anticipate when you come home and unlock themselves accordingly. They can also be operated remotely to grant access to guests, tenants, housekeepers, and friends. However, while smart locks can make your life easier, they can also expose you to security risks due to vulnerable technology or faulty mechanisms. That’s why choosing the right gadget requires some careful research. Some of the market leaders in the smart lock category are August and Kwikset Kevo. August’s complete smart home access system allows you to use your phone as a smart key, to see and speak to your visitors while they are at the front door, to create unique access codes for visitors, and to remotely control your smart lock. Kwikset Kevo provides features that are very similar to those of August, but a couple of my favorite features of the Kevo smart lock is the option of issuing your guests 24-hour eKeys, as well as the lock’s ability to interact with the Nest thermostat for energy use optimization. And then there’s Haven Connect. Unlike August and Kevo, Haven Connect is literally a wedge barrier that reinforces and locks your door. But it also provides smartphone integration with options for smoke and fire detection, remote control, and receiving break-in alerts.

In the Energy Efficiency & Lighting category, Philips Hue Personal Lighting is my favorite, for reasons any 8-year-old would understand. This Philips system lets you use an app to control light intensity and color, as well as to create alarms that turn lights on and off automatically. Something as simple as changing the color and intensity of the light can feel very magical and super fun. Kids love it, but so do I! Another way to control the light intensity in your home through an app is with Creed Connect lightbulbs. This lightbulb option is significantly cheaper than Philips Hue, but, unfortunately, it only comes in one color. If you’re looking less for magic than for convenient functionality, then Creed Connect is a great, affordable way to automate home lighting.

For all the devices in the house that aren’t already smart, there’s the BeeWi Smart Plug. This little device allows you to monitor and automate simple devices such as lamps, TVs, hair-dryers, and other energy-wasting appliances. The BeeWi device looks like a regular plug that goes into a wall, but it can be controlled through an app on your phone. With this app and some smart plugs, you can configure your regular lamps to turn on and off in response to motion, or according to a schedule you choose!

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