Make Way for Housing

Proposal to Fort Point Arts Community


This public art proposal addresses the issue of affordable housing in Boston. With land space at a premium, and with the prices for housing of all types reaching historic levels, the region must find alternatives to house its residents in the future. Referencing Boston’s history of land-building and orientation towards the sea, this installation invites the viewer to consider a future in which the City’s vast waterways become homes for citizens.

The Fort Point Channel has held the promise of a better life for generations—from the earliest sailors seeking wealth and adventure in colonial times, to the first of several waves of artists hoping to create a place for themselves in the 1980s, to today, where developers are building towers at a breakneck pace. As New England’s oldest artist cooperative, Fort Point Artist Community (FPAC) has helped its members to live and work in Boston, while also celebrating a range of art and design. The Fort Point neighborhood’s identity is inextricably intertwined with creative placemaking in the City.

Affordable housing is a long standing issue in Boston, with the demand for even market-rate units far exceeding the supply. A recent lottery for rental subsidy vouchers saw more than 10,000 people applied for just 73 slots, and official estimates indicate the City needs to create 53,000 units to accommodate population growth over the next 15 years. These are staggering numbers, and are compounded by a lack of available land to build. Artists as a group feel the issue particularly hard, due both to their relatively low earning potential and need for live and work space.

While focused on a complicated, current-day issue, Make Way for Housing derives its name from the beloved children’s book Make Way for Ducklings, an award-winning story of mallard family navigating their way around Boston in search of a home. The book is memorialized in the Public Garden with a bronze public art installation, which is visited by tens of thousands of people from around the globe every year.

The installation consists of one large floating home and eight smaller ones invisibly tethered to it. Situated on floating wooden docks, the houses are made of a foam substrate with canvas on the exterior—a material that references not only Boston’s sailing history, but also its fine art traditions. Shaped to resemble a typical, iconic home in childhood drawings (four walls and peaked roof) the houses are painted simply with a yellow front door and three blue-tinted windows. Located on the northeastern quadrant of the Channel’s art basin, the installation is easily viewed from Congress Street, a popular corridor for commuting professionals and for tourists alike. The large house will be anchored, with the smaller linked homes free to float according to the currents. This not only take up a larger footprint in the expansive space, but also creates new views daily for passersby, and helps infuse additional personality to the work.

With its various cultural references, Make Way for Housing connects FPAC to the missions of several Channel-adjacent institutions, including the Children’s Museum and Boston Society for Architects. The installation will serve as a beacon for FPAC’s Open Studios, highlight the organization’s founding mission to preserve artist spaces, and bring awareness to the broader issue of affordable housing in Boston. While the house forms are easily recognizable, a vast array of interpretations are possible depending on the viewer—be they a parent or toddler, artist or architect, tourist or resident.

Make Way for Housing inverts the viewer’s perspective on land use—waterways become a place for housing rather than just the boundaries that define our buildable land. Although playful at first glance, the installation invites a deeper conversation about how Boston can meet the challenges of preservation, growth, and inclusivity.