Savin Hill architect duo has plans for their neighborhood and city

With renewal and new development stretching across all corners of Dorchester, two architects committed to the neighborhood they call home are excited about prospects for themselves and the public.

RODE Architects, consisting of Eric James Robinson (the titular Ro) and Kevin Deabler (the De) operate out of a small office on the first level of a three-decker on Elton St., balancing large-scale projects across the state with smaller, but by no means less important, jobs in Dorchester.

One recent project the firm has worked on is the redesign of the Little House on East Cottage St., part of the Federated Dorchester Neighborhood Houses program which provides education services for all ages, including an alternative middle school at Little House.
“The fact that they chose to set up shop right here in Dorchester, I think it says a lot about who they are,” said Mark Culliton, CEO of Federated Dorchester. “They’re doing kind of high end residential stuff that’s on the cutting edge, but … they’re also coming in and redesigning a facility like Little House which is not exactly cutting edge.”

After years of friendship, Robinson and Deabler began working together on a few side projects which grew into regular moonlighting work until they decided to combine talents in their own firm. They have been dedicated to their new jobs full-time for about eight months, and say that running such a small business comes with challenges.

Robinson, 38, who hails from the Washington, D.C. area, met Deabler when they were both freshmen architecture students at North Carolina State University. After earning a master’s in architecture at the University of Virginia, he ended up in Dorchester with his wife and two young children.

Deabler, 37, and a New Hampshire native, moved to North Carolina in his teens before attending N.C. State. He earned an MBA from Northeastern University and has worked for various firms in Boston. He lives with his wife and daughter in Savin Hill, upstairs from the firm’s Elton St. office.

Recently the pair have been working with a larger California firm to provide daily project oversight for the redesign of the Fine Arts Library Digital Images & Slides collection at Harvard University.

Back home in Dorchester, though, Deabler and Robinson find working with local business owners just as rewarding.

Karen Henry-Garrett, owner of the Dot-to-Dot Café on Dorchester Avenue in the St. Mark’s neighborhood, hired them based on a recommendation. They radically redesigned the café and renovated the building, replacing the ceiling and dramatically altering the exterior. The job required sorting through the maze of bureaucracy that is the city planning process, a daunting task for any first-time renovator.

“It was a fairly involved process and all those plans had to be submitted and they did all that work,” said Henry-Garret.

“Eric was helpful about coming down to 1010 Mass. Ave. [the city’s permitting office] with me and going trough the hoops there, again, with questions I wouldn’t have known about,” she said. “I believe that the whole setup here in Boston makes it almost virtually impossible to do it without a team of architects,” she added.

Deabler and Robinson see a future for Dorchester focused on buildings of the right size and character to match the surrounding environment. “We would like to see good mixed-use projects come in that effectively blend housing and retail,” said Deabler. Buildings that could house residents, community activities, and businesses are key to RODE's vision for the area. “We’re real designers,” said Robinson “it’s just how we’ve been educated and how our careers have developed. It’s about really understanding a place for a proposed project.”

In starting their own business in this economic climate, the RODE team says that their mission is about “projects and the people,” an entrepreneurial take on community involvement that seems to fit for them.

“Local small business can really make a difference,” says Federated Dorchester’s Culliton. “Especially people that are focused on the double bottom line of doing good work but also doing good.”