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Radical Accessories


Boston has, throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, been an exemplar of typological solutions to housing which have provided access to the American dream for middle income residents.

In the 21st century, however, existing typologies and zoning practices have been unable to adequately accommodate increasing urban populations. Existing typologies have largely reached saturation and few parcels remain open to development to satisfy ever-increasing demand.

At the same time, increasing pressures for sustainable building practice call for the preservation rather than demolition of existing structures; social living groups – once dominated by the nuclear family – have diversified, and are at times poorly served by existing housing models; and strong drives at the neighborhood and planning levels to preserve the character of existing residential street frontages have exacerbated the middle income housing crisis with additional social, preservation, and environmental dimensions.


This brief asks for a radical reconceptualization of an existing typology—the accessory dwelling—as an avenue for growth in Boston’s 21st century. This brief will define an accessory dwelling as a residential structure separate from an existing residential structure within the same lot. This structure may be built above and/or behind the existing one.

The accessory dwelling must include three residential units, one publicly accessible commercial unit or shared program, and consider the consequences of its own proliferation across a typical block in order to provide direct access to light, air, and outdoor space to each unit.

Contextual considerations may include the history of setback laws and illustrations of Hugh Ferriss, local typologies such as the triple decker and rowhouse, the broader history of communal living typologies such as the Chinese courtyard house, the phalanstery, and WeLive, and plug-in architectures by the Metabolists, Archigram, Safdie, and others.


• Three or more residential units, each housing 2-5 occupants. Attitudes towards social and family structures as exemplified through the organization of the accessory dwelling unit must be clearly articulated.

• One publicly accessible commercial unit or shared program. Possible programs are completely open to selection or invention and must play a central role in the design narrative. The disposition and visibility of this public program to the accessory dwelling units, the street frontage, and the existing residential structure must support a broader argument, to be supported in written or diagram form.

• Direct access to outdoor space for each unit on or above grade. This may be private to each unit or shared across all units.

• Walls within 5 feet of a lot line cannot have windows


• The site is an abstracted but typical block based on those seen in South Boston’s Telegraph Hill neighborhood, characterized by deep lots with a roughly 4:1 length-to-width ratio.

• Designers may choose to take on the context of Telegraph Hill as a neighborhood specifically, or remain generic to Boston more broadly.

2020 Preliminary Rotch Brief Site


• The accessory dwelling may be built over as well as behind the existing structure.

• Parking may be included but is not a required element.

• The accessory dwelling must be a separate structure and contain its own entry, circulation, and program separate from the existing structure onsite.

• The accessory dwelling must not overly compromise the existing structure and surrounding neighbors’ access to light, air, and outdoor space.

• Building height is not limited.