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Beyond The Big Dig
About this project

What happens to the ribbon of land being created by the depression of the Central Artery may be the most important development decision to face Boston in a generation.

  The team of Carol R. Johnson Associates and Turenscape was selected as the winner of the competition to design the Chinatown/Leather District parcel.

Last Surface Artery design team picked

By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff, 1/16/2003

More than a decade after planning began to restore the Surface Artery corridor and return it to the use of Boston residents and visitors, the designer selection process is complete.

Massachusetts Turnpike Authority officials yesterday announced they have chosen a design team from among four finalists for the Chinatown/Leather District, one of three separate sections of the 30-acre strip between Causeway and Kneeland streets.

Carol R. Johnson Associates, a local firm, joined with a China-based company, Turenscape, to win the right to design a public space on an elongated strip of land on the edge of Chinatown, along Surface Artery southbound traffic lanes.

That space, about eight-tenths of an acre, is the sole parcel in the Chinatown/Leather District portion of the Surface Artery corridor, the third of the three sections in the overall corridor assigned to designers.

''It still will be some time before we see completion of the parcels, but this is an important milestone,'' said Anne Fanton, executive director of the Central Artery Environmental Oversight Committee.

Over the last two months, Wallace Floyd Design Group, another local firm, was chosen to create the parks and public space on the North End's two parcels.

And EDAW - teamed with yet another local firm, Copley Wolff Design Group - was named to design the largest of the three sections, the Wharf District, four blocks running from Christopher Columbus Park down to High Street.

In a sense, the Turnpike stayed close to home in its choices for Surface Artery designers. Leaders of all of the teams chosen have had close ties to the Big Dig.

Wallace Floyd was one of the subcontractors teamed with the project's private managers, Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, when the consultant first won the Big Dig job. Copley Wolff had the major 1996 Surface Artery restoration contract, which paved the way for the final design process. And Carol R. Johnson is a subconsultant to Bechtel/Parsons.

''They've all got their feet on the ground,'' said Judith Nitsch, owner of Judith Nitsch Engineering, a subcontractor on two of the three winning Surface Artery design teams. ''It's not like they're coming in not knowing who's Mayor Menino.''

The three design teams will now begin the final drawings for the open space portions of land being reclaimed from the shadows of the elevated Central Artery interstate highway.

It will be overseen by the Turnpike Authority and the Boston Redevelopment Authority, which are nearing an agreement on the details of the process.

An effort by the Legislature and the other parties to create a new organization to own, manage, and finance the Surface Artery failed last summer, though a modified version of that proposal was refiled late last year.

The design process for the open space, expected to last about 15 months, will include considerable public involvement, under guidelines set up when the Central Artery/Ted Williams Tunnel project was approved by the state 12 years ago.

That process begins Feb. 4 with an evening presentation of all design concepts by the firms that competed for the contracts to design the three sections of the corridor.

Design proposals presented by the finalists were considered only for the purpose of choosing the teams - the concepts they submitted may or may not play a part in what is finally constructed. But the Turnpike Authority, which oversees the Big Dig, paid for the finalists' design concepts and can use any of the ideas it received.

The three final designers were selected by a five-person committee. The members were Fred Yalouris and Bill Tuttle from the Turnpike Authority, Rebecca Barnes and Sue Brown from the City of Boston, and Betsy Shure Gross from the state Executive Office of Environmental Affairs.

All of the finalists competing to design the parcel adjacent to Chinatown emphasized Asian themes, with some employing bamboo.

''It just has a very Asian sense to it,'' Turnpike chairman Matthew Amorello said of the concept submitted by the winning team. ''Others did too, but some kind of overplayed the dragon element.''

The guidelines called for a park or public space adjacent to the ornate Chinatown gateway at Beach Street, cutting off the currently confusing vehicular access from Edinboro and Kingston streets to Beach and the Surface Artery southbound.

Yalouris, director of architecture for the Big Dig, said the proposals were mostly for a Downtown Crossing-like public area in the triangular space just north of Beach Street.

The Carol R. Johnson concept shows a tree-lined Surface Artery with groves or screen sections of bamboo in several places. Unlike two of the proposals, which proposed moving the existing Chinatown gateway to the corner of Beach and Surface, the winning concept would leave the gateway in its current place.

Combined with an existing small park just south of Beach, the new space in the Johnson proposal would add room for festivals and other gatherings in the congested Chinatown neighborhood, Yalouris said.

He said the strong influence of Kongjian Yu, an architect with Turenscape, based in Beijing, was evident in the winning proposal. Tall, red metal posts, joined teepee-like in the middle, would support lights or banners.

Under a separate contract for the so-called Artery Arts program, California artist May Sun designed the broad intersection at Beach and Surface, which extends east into the Leather District.

Yalouris said there will be four other distinct parks in the Leather District, located from Summer Street down to Lincoln Street.

South Street will stop at a new park just north of Essex Street, rather than continuing across Surface Artery toward Summer and High streets.

Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached at tpalmer@globe.com.

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