Boston, Massachusetts, building and developing firm PlaceTailor does a lot of things differently. Founded in 2008 by graduates of the Boston Architectural College, the firm is an employee-owned worker cooperative. The employees (or bosses — take your pick) are mostly trained as architects, but they all bang nails on site. They work together as a team to design their projects, and they take turns running the jobs. (Four core members of the company — Evan Smith, Travis Anderson, Stephen Daly, and Laura Boyle, all carry the job title "Project Manager." Declan Keefe, the last of PlaceTailor's original founders who is still with the company, is the director.)
Coastal Connection visited a PlaceTailor jobsite in the Fort Hill section of the Boston neighborhood of Roxbury last week to see the team at work. The project, a two-family spec project backed by an outside developer, is framed and sheathed, and we found the team working on siding. By chance, another PlaceTailor job in the neighborhood was delayed because of weather, so we had the rare opportunity to see all four Project Managers swinging a hammer on the same job. For this project, it's Evan Smith's turn to "run the job." But Smith said, "We have a flat structure. Everybody shares the work and the responsibility. We're a team. It works great for us — we can't understand why anybody would want to do it any other way." But Declan Keefe admits, "It's not for everybody. It does make it hard to hire. You need the right kind of person."
One of the company's core values, says director Declan Keefe, is innovation. "On every project, we want to be learning something new," he says. On the current duplex project, one new twist is that PlaceTailor is partnering with another developer who put up some of the backing for the construction. But sometimes the new ideas are technical.
One small example: the rainscreen siding system we saw on the job. It's the brainchild of project manager Travis Anderson: using corrugated plastic "sign board" to make the strapping for the vertical ship-lap board siding. Vertical shiplap is one of the simplest and most economical claddings to apply to a building, but it's a little tricky as part of a rainscreen detail. That's because the strapping required to hold the vertical boards off the wall tends to interfere with the airflow and drainage in the space it creates. Anderson's solution is to get cheap 4x8-foot sheets of plastic board, rip them into strips crosswise to the corrugations, and make hollow-channel strapping. View the slideshow to see the crew install the detail.