Monday, October 27, 2014

City Hall Plaza starts its needed downsizing...

...and the MBTA finally starts on a Government Center Station headhouse that meets its location

Act 1: The former headhouse,
now demolished.
Act 2: The new headhouse,
under construction.

Act 3: The new headhouse,
as it will look upon completion.

The Location: City Hall Plaza, Boston, MA.

The Story: We've visited this location for the weblog before, advocating for rotating, temporary installations back in April 2010, thinking about more aggressive street re-introduction later that year (since the plaza obliterated a very tight piece of urban fabric half a century ago that has its own restoration logic, even though it is virtually impossible to achieve), and countering revisionism about City Hall itself in 2012. Having finally concluded, I think out of necessity, that a massive re-do isn't feasible, the new administration finally decided earlier this year, with the help of Utile Architecture + Planning, as its main planning consultant, to openly opt for a kind of tree-led downsizing of the plaza's blank and badly dysfunctional slate. You can see the overall gameplan here:

Credit: Utile; Architect's Newspaper.

And the effort, interestingly, is being led by the replacement of the hideously god-awful, bunker-like, 1960s-era Government Center station headhouse with a new glass headhouse and pavilion that is much more substantial in all dimensions, and will provide a real sense of arrival/departure when completed in early 2016. To go into and out of the old headhouse on a regular basis, or even only occasionally, was to know, deep down, just how unimportant rail transit was to a city and commonwealth that, to speak plainly, absolutely relies on rail transit to keep it from seizing up completely on auto congestion. It gave you almost a palpable sense of sadness.

It appears that this initial phase will include the "bosques," or groupings of trees, shown along Cambridge Street and adjacent to the headhouse as well as the new stairway-eliminating ramps and wider sidewalks at the intersection of Cambridge and Court Streets. Eventually, several additional bosques are planned to help create a more manageable, intimate central gathering place. I'm usually not one to suggest that just dropping in some happy trees to hide your urban design mistakes, whether new or old, is a good idea, but I do believe I have finally found a use for landscape urbanism. If you look closely, I think you can also see that there's an intent to surreptitiously restore Cornhill Street on the right-hand side. Now that's the kind of thing that warms a still-recovering transportation planner's heart...

Special credit to the piece by Alex Ulam posted to the Architect's Newspaper website with a date of March 5, 2014. Thanks, Alex.

Blog Post No. 2014-11.