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