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2016 MCHAP.emerge

Marginal Street Lofts

MERGE Architects

Boston, MA, USA

October 2014


Elizabeth Whittaker


Delvecchio Construction (Contractor) BLW Engineers (MEP Consultant) Evan Hankin, PE (Structural Engineer) GRP Inc. (Civil Engineer) Boston Forging & Welding Corp. (Façade)




John Horner


In our various lines of research working with established typologies, the social aspect of architecture frequently provides the (conceptual) material of innovation. In each project I seek to implement and amplify an architecture that addresses and negotiates the relationship between individuals in a space as well as the relationship between a building or interior and its context. The limitations on the Marginal Street Lofts project resulted in tube-like stacked units opportunistically interlocked to effect sectional and proportional shifts within the space of the unit. Living, dining, and cooking areas on the front of the building are compressed and horizontal, leading the eye through a series of layered spaces toward framed views of the water and the Boston skyline beyond. The Marginal Street Lofts residential balconies are the extension of the social 3rd space of the street, strategically inserted to make previously secluded interior spaces an extension of the urban fabric through use and transparency. On its façade, the building mixes an industrial material palette of corrugated steel and cable mesh with warm red cedar siding reminiscent of its triple-decker neighbors. Merge Architects worked closely with a highly skilled team of metal workers to develop a fabrication method for the façade frame and attachment detail for the wire mesh, ultimately combining factory labor and the handmade. Each wire-mesh panel was partially fabricated by the mesh manufacturer in the factory and then handwoven into the cables defining the edge of each facet on site.


This recently completed nine-unit residential building occupies a small but unique site on the waterfront in East Boston. Located between the residential neighborhood of Jeffries Point and an active shipyard, public art gallery and cafe, the design utilizes industrial materials to effect a contemporary interpretation of context while dissolving the boundary between building and city. Planning limitations, including height restrictions imposed by neighbors, parking requirements from the city, and the developer’s desire to provide water views for every unit, presented an opportunity to strategically rework standard residential typologies. Where our projects are constrained by budget or scope, often the result of this limited means is a focus and clarity on our research interests and impact. Digital modeling and manual fabrication have provided low costs entry points to complex construction techniques, bringing us together with craftspeople and fabricators as we explore and refine the work.


The unique geometry of the façade, elevation of the building off the ground, and transparency of the lobby perform a tectonic negotiation between the territory of the building and the surrounding neighborhood. The porous boundary of the mesh façade pushes the private space of the unit into the public space of the street, while the parking void and lobby become an extension of the sidewalk. The façade and lobby thus becomes an amenity shared between the building’s residents and the neighborhood: a vertical garden of climbing plants both green a predominantly concrete streetscape and provide shade for the residents in the summer, while the lobby acts as a display case for a rotating art exhibition visible from within as well as the street. The project is a catalyst for new contemporary residential work in the city, cited by Boston’s Mayor and major publications as a bold new approach to residential development. The prototype for looking at exteriors as greenspace and social amenity in this neighborhood has been warmly embraced. Merge Architects is currently in design on a second multi-family project on Marginal Street.

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