How Architects Can Integrate Modern Design Into Traditional Industrial Building Types


The design for the warehouse at 250 Marginal St. in Chelsea, Massachusetts included wall space for murals as a way to connect with the surrounding community.

By Jonathan Quinn, partner, RODE Architects

The industrial typology is no longer reserved for business parks in remote regions.

As economic problems, technological changes and increased demand for skilled labor highlight the need for more localized production and distribution, industrial buildings are returning to cities and residential areas. This represents a major opportunity for cities to recover and revitalize their aging industrial districts and increase employment opportunities within their markets.

The proximity of urban areas allows access to large clienteles, but it also requires a different approach to industrial architecture. Downsizing manufacturing systems and moving to cleaner, more sustainable processes have solved part of this problem. As a profession, architects must recognize that there are opportunities for good design to help integrate industrial projects as well.

Jonathan Quinn, RODE Architects

Jonathan Quinn, RODE Architects

The program and needs of industrial projects are always unique, and in an urban setting, it is essential 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 key design features.

As the building is a large warehouse with many loading docks, combined with a narrower and longer site, its structure had to be rectilinear in shape. Therefore, we used structural precast concrete panels – a typical wall construction for a building of this type – to create visual interest on the long facades facing the residential area 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 the murals to engage the community. Along with this technique, we used simple metal canopies and chain link screens to mark the entrances and protect the loading docks from the pedestrian corridors to the Chelsea waterfront.

Even when a project is contained in an industrial site, it can still have residential or institutional neighbors, such as 58 Hampden Street, located in the Newmarket neighborhood of Boston. This project serves as a showroom, retail, office and warehouse for a large plumbing supply company.

The site has the unique characteristics of being located in an industrial district, but prominent along Melnea Cass Boulevard with a social housing complex to one side. The program and site characteristics created several challenges that were addressed during the design.

The lower volume, which houses offices, shops and showrooms, is pulled up to the property line to create a street presence. While using materials familiar to the industrial palette – composite metal panel, glass and masonry – the design seeks to use these materials in an innovative way that not only highlights industrial use, but also places the building in the 21st century. century.

To accommodate housing development on one side, the site was planned to take advantage of the quieter features of the location to mitigate any disturbance to residents. In addition, the building has been moved to one side of the site to allow for future development, which maximizes the site’s potential and creates a presence on Melnea Cass Boulevard. These two projects again underline the need to approach each industrial project in a way that meets the needs of that specific program and site. This is the key to the success of each project and its successful integration into the fabric of a city.

Besides the scale of the buildings themselves, industrial projects present other major social considerations for architects and cities. Ensuring that the new development will not have a negative impact on the accessibility of amenities and services on which the surrounding community depends is one example.

The goal, as architects, is to make the buildings fit into the existing urban fabric of the neighborhood with the intention of enhancing – and never disrupting – the community. New development brings new businesses and new groups of people. Architects must prioritize keeping the community intact by finding ways to integrate it into the project.

For example, dedicating space in an industrial building for equipment or services, such as a community center that prioritizes the established population while strengthening and solidifying the fundamental identity of the community, achieves this goal. In this sense, working on industrial typology can be rewarding, especially when done in the context of the modern city. It is a need that is only growing.

– RODE Architects is a Boston-based design and town planning company.

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