Grafting Adaptations onto Existing Buildings and into the City

Today’s architects have an urgent responsibility to address the climate crisis by radically reducing the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from our work. Reusing and adapting existing structures—which generally saves between 50 to 75 percent of embodied carbon emissions, compared to building new—is therefore an increasingly critical part of architectural practice.1  Yet many consider it merely a technical necessity rather than a design generator.

This studio aims to challenge that assumption by exploring the environmental and creative potential of Grafting, one particular method of adaptive reuse that is informed by natural processes of healing and repair. Performed by people since ancient times, horticultural grafting is the act of connecting two or more separate plant tissues to grow and function as one plant, while remaining genetically (and often visually) distinct. Motivated by the search for more resilient and fruitful plants, grafting is an innately experimental practice that has also been a potent cultural metaphor—regarded by some as the sensitive art of working with nature, and by others as the creation of something impure and even monstrous.

This studio will draw on these various aspects to test how the concept of grafting can inform architecture and its many scales, provoking the imagination while simultaneously lending know-how to tectonic, programmatic, formal, and regenerative adaptations. The concrete parking garage of Josep Lluis Sert’s Peabody Terrace (1964) in Cambridge, MA, will serve as the project site. Students will research the original building and the context of its construction, develop an understanding of embodied carbon and the environmental repercussions of varying degrees of intervention, and explore design solutions for its adaptation and renewed role in urban life.

Day trips and tours in Boston and New England will be offered during the week of February 20-24. The preliminary itinerary includes visiting buildings on Harvard’s campus, and daytrips to New Haven and UMASS Amherst. Class will be held on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons and will be taught in person on alternating weeks.

1.Larry Strain, “Ten Steps to Reducing Embodied Carbon,” American Institute of Architects,