Based in the South End of Boston, RODE Architects aims to invigorate industrial neighborhoods by imparting thoughtful design to what principal Kevin Deabler calls “a class of buildings that weren’t meant to be looked at.” Their portfolio thus includes a concrete-mixing plant, a grease-recycling plant, and a food-truck commissary alongside non-industrial projects such as multifamily housing, research facilities at Harvard University, and a number of restaurants finished in exuberant materials.
Now a team of 16, RODE (pronounced “ro-dee”) was founded in 2005 by Deabler and co-principal Eric Robinson, former classmates at North Carolina State University who came together after working for nearly a decade at different firms in Greater Boston, including Charles Rose Architects and Benjamin Thompson Associates. The pair pride themselves on their ability to dream big while contending with the realities of getting their plans built—particularly in neighborhoods not yet thick with contemporary design. Here, they discuss their recent and upcoming projects with ARCHITECT.
Heavy on Industry
“We’re seeing a lot of interesting things come out of our industrial work,” Deabler says. “One is that the forms are never repetitive from one project to another.” The New York concrete facility [for Ferrara Bros.] beside Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood is a 125-foot-tall windowless box, which could easily become a looming eyesore. “Concrete has to be made close to the city, and the site will have some great visibility,” Deabler said. “[We asked ourselves,] ‘How do you shape this kind of building in a way that’s going to be interesting for a long time?’ ” As a result, the firm “is trying to add some formal touches to the building” such as its roof, angled to mimic its exposed conveyor belt incline.
Also in Brooklyn, the ClearBrook Recycling Center has beautiful views of the Statue of Liberty, proximity to the fabulous Bush Terminal Park—and nonstop truck traffic. “One thing that ties industrial projects like this together is logistics; the concrete plant gets 10 trucks per hour,” Deabler says. “Both projects need to buffer against other parts of the neighborhood in tight, confined spaces.”
“These are somewhat forgotten building types, but the city wants them to look aesthetically pleasing,” Robinson adds. “People are already asking: ‘Why can’t these buildings be good architecture, too?’ ”
Improvisations Over Implosions
“Our approach to sustainability is centered on adaptive reuse,” Deabler says. The firm tries to make the most of an existing building’s embodied energy, both in its construction materials as well as its aesthetic capital. “Sometimes the clients just want to tap into the visceral qualities of their buildings,” he says.
The Bornstein & Pearl Food Production Center, a commercial kitchen and food-business incubator in residential Dorchester, Mass., presented an opportunity to enhance the former meat factory despite it being more expensive to renovate and bring it up to code than to tear it down and start from scratch. “Boston has a lot of that kind of quasi-historical project—which is a great thing, because it’s forcing people to keep beautiful buildings that have stood the test of time and can be altered in a way that brings them both back and forward,” Robinson says.
Creating a Social Glue
RODE seeks out projects with the potential to transform a space or an entire neighborhood. “Many of our projects have a commercial or retail component that serves the community, and a way to talk about the project to neighbors who otherwise get turned off by development,” Robinson says. “We’re finding that restaurants can be the most transformational because the community builds around them.”