© 2018 by Carlos Guzmán

"Levels and Drivers"

Housing studio

Boston is facing an extreme shortage of middle income housing within city limits. As rents climb to historic highs, and developers focus on luxury condos for international clients, tech industry execs, and wealthy empty nesters, land values and a labyrinthine approvals process stymy would-be middle income developers. The city is fast losing its middle income young professionals, families, and creative class to the suburbs and other cities.

Design studios often follow a familiar path: analysis, schematic concept, development of the concept, and finally integration of structure, systems, and environmental considerations. This studio turned that model around, and used those “constraints” as drivers for design, adding to that list zoning and other regulatory considerations. Architectural form was generated not from passing site analysis, but from understanding and manipulation of these drivers. The studio will use middle income housing as a catalyst and test site for creative gaming of these constraints.

For this studio we assumed the class had a Developer as a client who provided a pro forma to follow: 

- Overall square footage: 25,000-30,000 square feet
- Net to gross ratio: 70-80%
- Number of units: 15
- Mix of units: 3 studios, 7 one bedrooms, 4 two bedrooms, 1 three bedroom. 


Further analysis of both the International Building Code and the city’s zoning code revealed that the amount of units that were expected were much lower than what these documents allowed. Boston’s zoning code for example placed the site of the project in an area designated to encourage high rise development. The maximum allowed height in this zone was 120 ft. after a variance and a FAR of 7.0 which amounted to a square footage much higher than the one submitted in the pro forma. 

This situation produced room for experimentation and created opportunities to design various building types for each student. That being said, I decided my construction type would be heavy timber (Type IV) because of its thermal properties and because the context consisted mostly of middle rise buildings. This construction type would limit the height of the building to 5 stories or 60ft when using a concrete base, or what is also commonly known as a “4+1”. 

Building stats: 

Number of floors: 5 
Total Height: 71’ 
Total construction square footage: 21,000 sqf 
Area of site: 5,600 sf
Number of units: 24


By using double height micro-units with integrated mezzanines and shared spaces, the main design strategy was to orient the façade as much as possible to the sun by using shifted bay windows. 

These bay windows had certain zoning constraints such as angle limitations and projection to the sidewalk. Other physical limitations to the bay window strategy was the eastern side of the building which was comprised of a fire wall. Therefore it was only possible to use this strategy in the western and northern facades. The main drivers for the western façade were ventilation and sunlight. However, in the northern façade, ventilation and views were deemed to be most important since direct sunlight is not a factor in this direction.

An angle of 45 degrees on one side allowed for an adequate proportion of sunlight to enter the interior of a unit joined with a 30 degree angle on the other side which permitted the use of operable windows for natural ventilation of predominant north western winds.  These angles are code compliant as well as the dimension of the projection of the bay.  


Additional shading studies were conducted using sunlighting simulations using EPW data to assess if the initial observations proved correct. These studies were done in days that marked seasonal solstices through a year.

Client: N/A

Location: Boston, MA

Academic faculty:  

  • Marilyn Moedinger AIA 

Fall 2015 / Architectural Studio 4 / Boston Architectural College

Carlos Guzmán 

Typical micro-unit floorplan