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2018 MCHAP

Grow Box

Elizabeth Whittaker

Lexington, MA, USA

January 2016


Elizabeth Whittaker / Merge Architects


Amit Oza / Merge Architects (Project Manager) Allison Austin / Merge Architects (Designer) Jamie Pelletier / Merge Architects (Designer)


David Wallace


John Horner


Utilizing the existing foundation of the original house, the charge was to create a small home that would take advantage of the gardens and allow for extensive views out into the landscape. The initial discussions focused on how to incorporate as many large windows as possible, however, what was created is a complex ‘box’ that not only captures generous views to the garden, but actually brings the garden (exterior) space into the interior of the house.


Grow Box is a 1,975 sf (185 m2) home in Lexington, MA, designed for an MIT University Professor, his wife, and their young son. The small wooded site located in suburban Boston was originally occupied by a small cape style home that no longer met the demands of a growing family. The landscape surrounding the house, while not grand in scale, was ambitiously planted with over 65 different varieties of Japanese maple species painstakingly cultivated and maintained by the clients. In order to transform the way the family lived and experienced this landscape, the house would need to reconceptualized as a bridge between architecture and nature.


Grow Box carves a cube-like volume with five recessed gardens, allowing for the elements (rain, snow and vegetation) to live among and in between the interior spaces. The largest garden on the second level carves down into the first floor, creating an embedded courtyard encircled by the common living spaces. This garden, which collects rain in the summer and snow in the winter, frames one’s experience of the elements as the literal and metaphorical centerpiece of the home. The extents of the existing gardens limited the footprint of the new house, and inspired an architecture that utilizes landscape to expand physical limits of the house. The resulting design is a compact volume penetrated by slot gardens and entry decks that both define space within the house, and erode the boundary between interior and exterior. On the interior, each room is paired with at least one garden. The recessed nature of the gardens allow the clients to visually inhabit the landscape while maintaining privacy from the neighboring houses and adjacent street. On the exterior, the visual contrast between the crisp geometry of the house and the sinuous landscape is both enhanced and obfuscated by the tree-trunk hue of the weathering steel cladding. Large areas of glazing surrounding the slot gardens and floor-to-ceiling windows refect the surrounding trees and plantings, further blurring the distinction between architecture and nature.

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