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Boston’s New Center of Design and Innovation

October 30, 2017

By Matthew Corcoran Associate Director, Content
By Matthew Corcoran Associate Director, Content


Boston's Innovation and Design Building. Photo courtesy of Richard Mandelkorn.

Boston’s New Center of Design and Innovation

October 30, 2017

The US has shifted over the past several decades from an economy based on manufacturing to one based on information and technology. Our building is case in point of this transition.

Jutting out into the Boston Harbor along the South Boston waterfront, the Innovation and Design Building is massive. It’s a third of a mile long and houses 1.4 million feet of floor space. Built in 1918 as a storage hub for the Army, its eight stories feature floors of poured concrete that are two feet thick and are sturdy enough to support armored tanks.

To the north is the city’s dry dock, where naval and merchant ships are brought in for repair. Jets take off and land on the far side of the harbor at Logan airport. To the south lies South Boston, marked by church steeples and triple-deckers. To the west, the skyline of downtown Boston is sketched by the modest skyscrapers of the financial district. East is the harbor, islands, and, further, the Atlantic.

Though the area has been historically a center of industry, fish processing, and shipping, many creative and technology companies have moved to the Innovation and Design Building (or IDB) over the past several years.

Check out this video about some of the other interesting design and innovation companies at the IDB.

We’ve chosen this location because it’s developing into a new hub of innovation in the city that is the world’s best for biotechnology.

Even now, with several other biotech start-ups, Dana-Faber Cancer Institute, Autodesk, architects, and design firms, the IDB has become one of the most vibrant locations in Boston. But as bustling as the neighborhood is today, it will be even more alive with the addition of many other businesses, including Reebok and America’s Test Kitchen in the coming months.

We’ve chosen this location to launch Emulate because it is developing into a new hub of innovation in the city that is the world’s best for biotechnology.

Inside Emulate's HQ:

Image courtesy of Richard Mandelkorn

Our building has attracted some top-notch tech and design firms. That much is clear. But it also home to some of the best food outlets in the city.

Fueling Innovation and Design

Triangle Coffee is one of the small businesses that occupies a converted shipping container at the IDB. The company was founded in 2014 by two friends — Ben Schmerler and Ottavio Siani — who worked together in coffee finance but wanted to run a shop of their own. Triangle uses beans from Gracenote, a roaster based in Berlin, Mass. that purchases directly from small farmers across the globe, from Mexico to Indonesia.

The baristas at Triangle Coffee place a great deal of attention on the way they prepare every cup and what they put in them. “We make our own syrups and use organic, direct, and local products,” said Tommy McLarney, a Triangle barista. The shop offers baked goods from Modern Pastry in Boston, milk and cream from Mapleline Farm in Hadley, and donuts from Union Square Donuts in Somerville.

“There is a great community among the other businesses at the IDB,” said Sara Primo, who runs the day-to-day operations of the shop with McLarney. “We all know each other, and 90 percent of our customers are regulars.”


Tommy McLarney and Sarah Primo sling coffee and pastries at IDB's Triangle Coffee.

Big Brother — and Sisters

Mei Mei — which means “little sister” in Chinese — was started by a brother (Andrew Li) and two sisters (Margaret Li and Irene Li) who wanted to share their passion for food and combine the skills they gained working in different industries. The siblings envision their restaurant as a mash-up of Chinese and American cuisines that uses local and seasonal ingredients. They now run three Mei Mei locations: a brick and mortar shop in Kenmore Square, a food truck that tours the city, and a shipping container at the IDB

John Piermarini — who left a job as a software engineer to pursue a career in food — manages Mei Mei’s IDB location and has been working here since 2015. “When I was in college, I took an interest in food,” Piermarini said. “I love that food is such an intersection of science and creativity. I get to use my engineering mind of measuring and being consistent, while also creating an experience for people.”

Piermarini and his team prepare bowls featuring fresh greens with local tofu, kimchi, chorizo, cheeses, and grains. For breakfast, they whip up “scalzones” — crispy scallion pancakes filled with potatoes, scrambled eggs, and all around cheesy goodness.


John Piermarini, who believes strongly in using local ingredients, runs Mei Mei's location at the IDB.

Mei Mei works hard to promote local sourcing of their ingredients as a practice that can be attained by others. “You can get delicious food that you might not ever see at a grocery store,” Piermarini said, “and you know it’s fresh, you know that it’s produced by somebody you might know personally.”

In the summer, Mei Mei even sources their arugula from Higher Ground Farms, which is located on the roof of the IDB. If that isn’t a perfect example of the new American economy, I’m not sure what is.