Transcending Conventional Multifamily Design

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The Ashmont/Peabody Square neighborhood in Boston, MA, is currently experiencing significant growth. Contributing to this positive transformation is a unique new multifamily project, 1943 Dot Ave, designed by ThoughtCraft Architects and constructed by Bald Hill Builders. This transit-oriented development serves as a bridge between the surrounding historic three-story apartment buildings and the larger commercial and residential buildings being developed in the neighborhood.

 Our approach to this project was framed around this central question: "Can we reinvent the typical multifamily style building—wood-framed construction over a podium—on a tight budget, all while paying homage to the neighborhood’s history?”

By exploring this question, we discovered how to integrate more efficient construction techniques while creating a unique identity for our client’s project in an extremely competitive rental market.

Our design process began with understanding the project’s site opportunities, constraints, and neighborhood context. The site had essentially been a hole in the urban fabric of a major commercial corridor. The deep, neglected lot had unique challenges that marked it undesirable, such as its narrow street frontage, sloping terrain, and the smaller scale of surrounding buildings.

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The neighborhood is predominantly made up of tightly packed three-story apartment buildings commonly referred to as triple-deckers. Originally developed as workforce housing between 1870 and 1930, each floor of these buildings typically contains one or two dwelling units. The expression of each individual dwelling unit can be seen on the front facade, marked by pushed in or pulled out bay windows and porches.

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Our client, the Peregrine Group, recognized the opportunity this lot provided to positively contribute to the Dorchester neighborhood. We exceeded their expectations by providing a compact, energy-efficient, transit-oriented development that included approximately 20 more dwelling units than they had anticipated.

1943 Dot Ave features the construction of 64 new units of market-rate rental housing, including four affordable units, in a 4-story building over ground-floor commercial space. The tight sloping site required clever approaches to squeezing a parking garage with 24 spaces under a post-tensioned concrete podium.

Determined to relate the building back to the neighborhood, our design unifies a collection of apartments, where, similarly to the neighborhood’s triple-deckers, each unit is visually expressed by pushing and pulling the facade on the outside and the hallway on the inside. This results in a unique aesthetic, which is unexpected in wood-framed multifamily buildings.

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The alternating cantilevered floors create a dynamic offset look that suits the neighborhood and its quintessential triple-decker housing stock. This strategy is repeated inside the building with each unit alternating to push into the common corridor that shapes the tenants’ experience and expresses individuality.

The constraints of the lot pushed us to be innovative with the materials and construction techniques. A highlight of the design is the use of Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) and a post-tension concrete podium which helped to speed up construction time and simplify the building’s exterior.

Other design highlights include unique structural strategies in wood framing to minimize exterior load-bearing walls. This allowed for the innovative combination of facade articulation and assembly methods for the exterior materials such as SIPs, minimal exterior insulation, and reconstituted stone panels.

Interested in multifamily developments in your area? Discover how ThoughtCraft Architects create value for our developer clients through design by downloading this free resource: Designing Value in Multifamily Housing

Lisa Saldivar