The first of three (and counting) Merge housing projects on East Boston’s aptly-named Marginal Street, the building celebrates its waterfront edge-condition in its approach to craft and manipulation of typology.
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 rework standard residential types. The result is a series of tube-like floor through units, a combination of flats and stacked maisonettes, that interlock to create sectional shifts within each unit. Sleeping spaces at the rear of the building are compact in plan and tall in section, focusing the gaze upward. Living, dining, and kitchen 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 harbor and skyline beyond.
The last of these layers is a balcony clad in red cedar subtly reminiscent of the building’s clapboard-clad neighbors. Railings are created by a metal frame surrounded by angled regions of metal mesh. A nautical allusion to the adjacent active shipyard, this custom-crafted netting and frame detail combines factory fabrication and the handmade. Each panel was first assembled off site by the mesh manufacturer and then painstakingly woven into cables defining the edge of each facet on site.
The resultant facade geometry and materiality pushes the private space of the unit into the public realm of the street. The condition of enclosure is then seasonally modulated by climbing plants making their way through the metal mesh.The elevation of the building off the ground – to accommodate parking and FEMA flood lines – and the transparency of the lobby have an inverse effect, extending the public space of the sidewalk into the site.
Through spatial and material means, then, the boundary between building and city is dissolved; margins are both erased and inhabited.