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Material Corners

2021 | Academic

Professor Jennifer Bonner, Harvard Graduate School of Design

Situated in downtown Boston and housing a new office for the National Science Foundation, this project is about the material corner and the corner of materials. Stemming from the prompt of the NSF being a foundation for the people, the project looks at what an urban office can offer a changing neighborhood identity. It began by looking at brick in the environment and in Boston proper. Brick became a primer: for its neighborhood identity, but more importantly for its scalar properties and granular textures. Bricks also get mapped onto buildings over time, doubling down on their scale and story.

In their proportions they begin to set up various relationships of joints and a relationship of parts, both in corner details and as a building block for the city, which was taken as a tool for early massing on the site.

The site is at a corner of three prominent neighborhoods and the project began to be framed in three scales of the corner: the corner detail, the corner block, and of course, the corner office.

Looking at the dated office of corner office and yesterdays, we see boxed in spaces, seas of cubicles, and the crucial break rooms with bad coffee

Today, we see the open office in full swing, which promises to break down the hierarchy and offer more flexibility and activity, but ends up extremely open, lively,  and with splattered what we now call kitchenettes or social points, that still have bad coffee.

Today’s workplace does incentivize employees with some benefits, but it is also largely drive by employers focus on efficient teams, cheap overhead, keeping employees at the office longer and billable hours. Its afraid of being closed off, boring, reclusive because it fears negligent employees and silent spaces.

I’m interested in looking at a different take to today’s workplace based on things that work for better performance and employee livelihood: spaces that offer more privacy and less display, organized offices, real kitchens and break spaces. To accomplish this, I’ve investigated three strategies, that of siloed program, enfilade offices, and multiple buildings, which I argue can offer both more privacy and a more active workplace.

To further unpack the workplace today, we freeze at the open office circa 2018. Everything per floor, allows the employee to go up to their floor and presumably not leave until 5pm.  In today’s workplace everything is sort of in the middle of everything else. It may save the employer precious minutes, but it costs the employee steps, fresh air, and privacy. There is now thorough response to the promises of the open office, one only has to spend a few minutes on twitter to see how today’s offices are functioning.

My three strategies: siloed program, enfilade office, and multiple buildings work to create more focused and personal spaces, more chances for movement, and rigorous organization. By breaking up the plates into multiple buildings, you get greater movement within the workplace and on the ground floor. By silo-ing and separating program, you create more focused work areas and healthy separation throughout the work day. By using an enfilade organization, the office gets more walls, and corners, for privacy and place-making. This adds a domestic (ie comfortable, human) scale, which is often lost in the open workplace today.


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Beginning with the second floor, you can see the siloed program take place, with the meeting hall on the top left and the enfilade workplace taking place in the other parts of the building. In the enfilade, one can see that the typical, 90 degree corners are deemphasized and given no special treatment, it is at the interior intersections and filleted façade that the joining of materials is emphasized. As you rise, the enfilade pivots, and the meeting house offers various large gathering programs, getting denser as you rise, offering exhibition space, seminar rooms, and finally meeting rooms.


One can see how the rigor of the enfilade flickers from severe and organized to fractured as the floor plates

pivot and interior-exterior spaces are created. In the center of the block, the courtyard remains, activated my soft-scaping and terraces that engage the central space.

These materials, brick and timber, are navigating interior and exterior and the role they can play in both.

Inherent to the material, and crucial to my exploration of it, brick acts as an urban canvas that traces history and light over time, form ghost facades, to filled in windows, to repaired grout, and reused bricks.

The contemporary dilemma of expressing timber on the exterior is something I explore in my enfilade this puncturing of a brick façade by the CLT blank, in turn, creates a series of many mini corners: filleted corners in the workplace.

From shallow to deep expressions, the patterning of brick takes up a graphic that tells a story of time and place.  Apparent in the beacon hill neighborhood is identity through lintel and frame, something I chose to emphasize by playing with the graphic expression of openings through the offsetting of frames, oversized lintels and openings that straddle the enfilade CLT seams.


In the end, and in true corner form, the building takes up multiple positions on the corner block. From one side the corner is soft and allusive. On another the building meets its urban and historic context by absorbing the existing building and maintaining its relationship to adjacent ones, and on another a cantilevering series of enfilades defines the corner from above.


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