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Co-Creating Boston's Future-Decker

For this year's Housing Innovation Competition, we're asking participants to ideate and propose new housing models for multifamily housing by drawing inspiration from the triple-decker.

About the competition

Co-Creating the Future-Decker is a competition where individuals and teams are invited to ideate and propose new housing that can be built on small sites.

competition roadmap

This year, the Housing Innovation Lab (Housing iLab) and the Boston Society for Architecture (BSA) are hosting a two-phase competition. Participants can address how housing at this middle-scale can help bridge a gap between small- and large-scale developments in the City.

In 2016 the BSA and the Housing iLab hosted the first Housing Innovation Competition where development teams were asked to show that small, affordable family units are feasible. This year, we are taking on a new development challenge by learning from the history of the three-decker.

Watch: An overview of Future-Decker
Credit: New Urban Mechanics

How we got here

By first taking a look at the iconic triple-decker, the Housing iLab in partnership with the BSA began a collaborative research effort. Our goal was to better understand the multifamily housing landscape in Boston.

exhibition poster

The triple- or three-deckers in Boston were mostly built between the 1880s and 1930s. They provided affordable opportunities for many immigrant, working, and middle class families in Boston. Today, these three wooden stacked apartment buildings are among the most expensive and desired housing in the City.

In 2020, the BSA and the Housing iLab led a collaborative exploration with residents, students, architects, artists, and many others. We learned about the role that triple-deckers have played in the lives of Boston residents. We heard about residents’ experiences with triple-deckers in Boston. We also asked all who participated to begin to imagine the future of this building type. 

We have showcased our findings in a virtual exhibition on the BSA website.

Process and timeline

Our hypothesis? By inviting a variety of participants to submit innovative ideas and proposals, we can introduce new replicable housing models in Boston.

We know that construction costs, land costs, and zoning are key barriers to the creation of middle-scale housing, which typically ranges from 3-15 units. Recent data shows that there is growing demand for multifamily housing. But, the cost is far too high for renters and homeowners to be able to afford. We want to see if there is an interest to help build smaller scale housing, such as the Future-Decker, across a variety of sites in the City. 


This year’s competition will be divided into two key phases:


Individuals and teams of all backgrounds are invited to share their ideas for housing types that would fit within the context of Boston’s neighborhoods.


Established development teams submit proposals that can be replicated across the final chosen sites. The winning team will have the opportunity to build a pilot project on yet-to-be-selected City owned sites.  

projected timeline

Phase I: Request for Ideas (RFI)

This Request for Ideas is an open call to anyone interested in seeing how new but familiar types of homes might respond to Boston’s current and future housing needs.

This process is a continuation of last year’s exploration. It provides a chance for all to help to shape the future of housing development on small sites. We will showcase the RFI submissions on this webpage this summer. 

Below is a map of the sites included in the Request for Ideas. For additional information about these, visit Building Housing!


Phase II: Request for Proposals (RFP)

Check back for updates!

Get involved

Join our mailing list to stay up to date on the Future-Decker competition.

Frequently asked questions

Common questions

An RFI is a document that solicits ideas of participants of all backgrounds. The goal is to inform the City’s approach for overcoming housing development challenges. It offers an opportunity to reimagine how we conduct community engagement by first inviting:

  • residents
  • architects
  • developers, and
  • many others to help shape a housing development process.

There is not a winner for the RFI. But, participants are given an opportunity to begin to form development teams that can enter the second phase of the competition.

A Request for Ideas is a way for us to better shape the guidelines that would eventually be included in a Request for Proposals for a yet-to-be-selected City-owned site. The RFI submissions will be showcased both virtually and throughout the City. This will give us the opportunity to receive feedback on submissions. Our goal is to better align the RFP with both the City’s goals and community aspirations.

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