For Merge Architects, Interiors Matter as Much as Facades

Part of Metropolis’s Specify Hot List 2021, this Boston-based firm makes no distinction between architecture and interior design when it comes to attention to details and environmental impact.

Elizabeth Whittaker’s Boston-based firm Merge Architects is aptly named. She merges the large with the small, the well-known with the obscure, and the public with the private. In this spirit of dialectic, she also makes no distinction between architecture and interior design when it comes to attention to details and environmental impact. “When people ask me ‘Do you do interiors as well?’ I say ‘What’s the difference?’ It’s all design to me.”

Founded by Whittaker in 2003, Merge has built an expansive portfolio of work, mostly in New England but also in places as far-flung as Panama, Detroit, and San Jose, California. She began with a modest 1,000-square-foot office in Boston’s hip Fort Point Channel area and is now running the firm from a 6,000-square-foot space with 25 employees.

Interior design projects range from a few hundred square feet for a small meditation app company to the hundreds of thousands of square footage Merge designed for Google in collaboration with Utile Architecture. In between are commissions from MIT, Northeastern University, and GrubStreet, Boston’s leading creative writing center.

A portrait of Elizabeth Whittaker

Regardless of scale, Whittaker prioritizes user-centric issues such as occupant health and material sustainability. Practice makes perfect: Whittaker says the team at Merge routinely earmarks time to perform sustainability design exercises, like submitting to Boston’s Triple Decker Challenge competition earlier this year, which the firm won. The charge was to create a proto-typical retrofit of the classic New England triple-decker apartment building that provides a more efficient building envelope, converts all power to electric, and adds a unit. The ambition is designing for a smaller overall carbon footprint.

“Even though we’re up to 25 people, we try to keep that spirit of exploration and resourcefulness,” Whittaker says. “We try to be inventive with normal conditions. I shouldn’t do small interiors projects because I can’t make a profit out of them. But I love doing them.”

One example: Ten Percent Happier is the maker of a mindfulness meditation app, for which Merge designed a 5,000-square-foot office—and a meditation space. 

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