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What Happens When You Fold A Wall?

A shift in social behaviors is drawing people back into cities and our brightest urban centers are rushing to accommodate the influx with a surge in new housing construction. These residential buildings comprise a significant portion of the built environment; they represent the architectural vernacular of our neighborhoods. Within this sector, the extruded rectangle – the double loaded corridor – is the most ubiquitous of the multi-family building typologies, offering a model familiar to construction methods and pro formas alike. The price of land acquisition and the cost of construction make it difficult to deliver affordable middle-income housing, adding to the appeal of a typology that maximizes every available square foot of rentable real estate.

The challenge to designers lies in how to suitably apply the ‘extruded-rectangle’ in our cities. The typology is inherently monolithic. As urban planners, our daily experience on the streets of Boston tells us that there is strength in the continuous street wall. It helps to define the 'urban room' of the street, defining the margins of urban life and giving structure to our cities. But within this structure, are there opportunities to vary from a strict rigidity, and add richness to the built environment?

What happens when you fold a wall?

  • Enrich the senses – Much as the spires of cathedrals lift the spirit of the observer towards the heavens, or the long horizon lines of Wright’s country houses instill a sense of grounded domesticity, so should our urban housing reflect the dynamic neighborhood setting in which it is found.

  • Respect and Enhance the Surroundings – The visual lines of a building can elegantly resolve irregular lot conditions, transition around a street corner, and acknowledge prominent neighbors or important view corridors; these gestures help a building become integrated with its environment.

  • Reduce the visual bulk of the building – Breaking the continuous edge of the building can reduce the overall impact of a building’s mass. A larger building can be made to feel contextual among smaller neighbors.

  • Delineate entry – From the igloo to the skyscraper, a visual indication of a building’s entry orients the user, grounds the building, and instills a sense of balance.

  • Expand the public realm – The bustling activity of our urban thoroughfares benefit greatly from even the slightest occasional relief. A bench tucked among landscaped planters adjacent to – but apart from – a busy sidewalk offers just the needed respite to foster a vibrant mix of activities.

Architects are responsible for creating buildings and spaces that both satisfy the client and enhance the lives of all who experience them. We are the arbiters of the inherent conflict between richness of form and economy of means.

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