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15 Young Firms to Watch: Merge Architects, Boston

15 Young Firms to Watch: Merge Architects, Boston

  • The Barry Loft master bath illustrates the firms knack for elevating commonplace materials.

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    The Barry Loft master bath illustrates the firms knack for elevating commonplace materials.

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    Anton Grassl

    The Barry Loft master bath illustrates the firm’s knack for elevating commonplace materials.

  • Designed for a site on the East Boston waterfront, this building of loft apartments uses a mesh screen to support a vertical garden.

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    Designed for a site on the East Boston waterfront, this building of loft apartments uses a mesh screen to support a vertical garden.

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    Rendering: Courtesy Merge Architects

    Designed for a site on the East Boston waterfront, this building of loft apartments uses a mesh screen to support a “vertical garden.”

  • Merge Architects principal Elizabeth Whittaker.

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    Merge Architects principal Elizabeth Whittaker.

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    Merge Architects principal Elizabeth Whittaker.

  • The Peg Wall Bookcase uses thousands of wood dowels to form an undulating, three-dimensional surface.

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    The Peg Wall Bookcase uses thousands of wood dowels to form an undulating, three-dimensional surface.

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    Kevin Buzzell

    The Peg Wall Bookcase uses thousands of wood dowels to form an undulating, three-dimensional surface.

  • Both sculptural and functional, the Peg Wall Bookcase illustrates Merges knack for using design to transform commonplace materials.

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    Both sculptural and functional, the Peg Wall Bookcase illustrates Merges knack for using design to transform commonplace materials.

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    Kevin Buzzell

    Both sculptural and functional, the Peg Wall Bookcase illustrates Merge’s knack for using design to transform commonplace materials.

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    John Horner Photography

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    John Horner Photography

 

merge architects
boston
www.mergearchitects.com

Elizabeth Whittaker, Assoc. AIA, had covered a lot of professional ground by the time she founded Merge Architects, working for firms in New York, Los Angeles (Frank O. Gehry & Associates), Berlin, and Boston. Still, the initiative to start her own firm came as much from her clients as from her own ambition. “I was getting these side jobs,” Whittaker says, “and my day job [for Boston-based Brian Healy Architects] was pretty intense.” She considered turning down outside projects altogether, she says. “But then I thought, ‘This is a sign. I should just go off and start my own thing.’ That’s how it happened: I had work.”

Starting with loft build-outs, Whittaker’s portfolio quickly expanded to include multifamily, commercial, and institutional projects. The work is characterized by bright, uncluttered spaces, sophisticated uses of everyday materials, and deceptively simple, knowing moves that generate a lot of surprise per dollar. Whittaker, who also is an adjunct professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, talks of “socially charging the design”—manipulating space and form to foster interactions among the people who use her buildings—and “hybridizing the program” to find novel combinations of uses. The language may sound academic, but it translates into buildings that are inventive, functional, and fun.

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years in practice: 9 / projects completed in 2011: 5 / firm size: 6 / areas of interest: custom residential, multifamily, commercial, institutional, health care