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ADD architects make big impact by thinking small

ADD’s staff specializes in designing ultra-efficient apartments for a new breed of urban dweller.

Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff

ADD’s staff specializes in designing ultra-efficient apartments for a new breed of urban dweller.

They made their mark by thinking small.

That might seem counterintuitive for big-city architects, but it’s how many of the designers at ADD in Boston spend their days — working to make urban living spaces more affordable and efficient.

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Last year, the company designed a 300-square-foot apartment to show it was possible to create compact housing that doesn’t cramp your lifestyle or your budget. The prototype, displayed at several exhibits in Boston, sparked a debate about ways to produce enough housing to meet a rising demand for city living.

“We’ve got a huge population shift, and we’ve got a housing stock that doesn’t match,” said ADD principal Tamara Roy. She said most of the thousands of new arrivals in Boston — from young people to empty-nesters — want to live alone or in units built for no more than two people. But only about 2 percent of greater Boston’s housing units are classified as studios.

“Small-unit housing is really needed,” she said. “If you built a building that contained only 500-square-foot units, there would be such a demand for it.”

In recent years, ADD has drafted plans for hundreds of compact apartments now under construction across the city. The firm designed several new units in towers rising in the South Boston Innovation District, including the recently completed building at 315 A St. that offers a mix of studios and compact one- and two-bedroom units.

The newly finished apartments are not cheap. Rents for 460-square-foot studios start at about $2,100 a month. But they are considerably less expensive than traditional, 1,000-square-foot one bedrooms that go for $3,500 or more in Boston.

Aeron Hodges, a designer who has spearheaded the firm’s micro housing efforts, said ADD has encouraged city officials and developers to build compact units in outlying neighborhoods, where prices would be significantly cheaper.

Part of her pitch: documenting that neighborhoods such as Dorchester, Roxbury, and East Boston have enough stores, restaurants, and transit stops to appeal to renters.

The firm has established an ambitious affordability target for Boston. “Can we get an entire building down to $1,000 a unit?” Roy asked. “That’s our goal. If we can do it, then it will be a model for doing it around the city.”

Casey Ross can be reached at cross@globe.com.
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