How Architects Can Integrate Modern Design into Traditional Industrial Building Types
By Jonathan Quinn, associate, RODE Architects
The industrial typology is no longer reserved for business parks in remote locations.
As economic issues, changes in technology and increased demand for skilled labor highlight the need for more localized production and distribution, industrial buildings are moving back to cities and residential areas. This presents a major opportunity for cities to reclaim and revitalize their aging industrial districts and increase employment opportunities within their markets.
Proximity to population centers provides access to large customer bases, but it also requires that industrial architecture be approached in a different way. The scale reduction of the manufacturing systems and the movement to more clean and sustainable processes has solved part of this problem. As a profession, architects need to recognize that there are opportunities for good design to help integrate industrial projects as well.
The program and needs of industrial projects are always unique, and in urban settings, it is critical that they respond well to the site and its adjacencies. One of RODE’s projects, 250 Marginal Street in Chelsea, Massachusetts, is a 146,000-square-foot freight forwarding facility that uses its materiality as one of its main design features.
As the building is a large warehouse facility with many loading docks, combined with a longer narrow site, its structure had to be rectilinear in form. Therefore, we used structural precast concrete panels — a wall construction typical for a building of this type — to create visual interest on the long façades facing the residential neighborhood next to the site.
RODE used the standard patterns provided by the precast concrete panel manufacturer to create an interesting design and leave potential space for murals to engage the community. Along with this technique, we used simple metal canopies and chain link screens to mark entrances and shield the loading docks from the pedestrian corridors to the Chelsea waterfront.
Even when a project is contained within an industrial site, it can still have residential or institutional neighbors, such as 58 Hampden Street, located in Boston’s Newmarket district. This project serves as a showroom, retail, office and warehouse building for a major plumbing supply company.
The site has the unique characteristics of being located within an industrial district, but prominently located along Melnea Cass Boulevard with a public housing complex on one side. The program and site features created several challenges that were addressed through design.
The lower volume, which houses the office, retail and showroom space, is pulled up to the property line to create a presence on the street. While still utilizing materials familiar to the industrial palette — composite metal panel, glass and masonry — the design is looking to use these materials in an innovative way that not only highlights the industrial use but also places the building in the 21st century.
To respond to the housing development on one side, the site was planned to leverage the quieter functions of the location to mitigate any disturbance of the residents. Additionally, the building was shifted to one side of the site to allow for a future development, which helps maximize the site’s potential and create a presence on Melnea Cass Boulevard. These two projects again highlight the need to approach each industrial project in ways that meet the needs of that specific program and site. This is the key to making each project a success and properly integrating it into a city’s fabric.
Aside from the scale of the buildings themselves, industrial projects present other major social considerations for architects and cities. Ensuring that new development will not negatively impact the accessibility of amenities and services that the surrounding community relies on is one such example.
The goal, as architects, is to make buildings fit into the existing urban fabric of the neighborhood with the intent to enhance — and never disrupt — the community. New development brings new business and new groups of people. Architects must prioritize keeping the community intact by finding ways to incorporate it into the project.
For example, dedicating space within an industrial building for amenities or services, like a community center that prioritizes the established population while strengthening and solidifying the core identity of the community, accomplishes this goal. In that sense, working on the industrial typology can be rewarding, especially when done in the context of modern city. This is a need that is only set to grow.
— RODE Architects is a Boston-based design and urban planning firm.