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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.

Design team for Wharf has vision of parks, rink

By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff, 12/24/2002

The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and Boston officials yesterday chose a design team to begin transforming the land of the Surface Artery. The team offered a vision of parks surrounding a seasonal skating rink, ''bookended'' with pavilions for public events, and edged by 14 slender pyramid-shaped kiosks.


With this concept, internationally known landscape designer EDAW of Virginia and Copley Wolff Design Group of Boston won the Turnpike's competition to do the final design work on the five important Wharf District blocks of the new Surface Artery.
View the runner-up plan

The proposal for the five-block swath known as the ''Wharf District'' is not intended to mark the actual design of the park, but to offer a sample vision of a design, to be considered along with numerous other possibilities for the final design by a selection committee over the next year and a half.

The winning consortium, a combination of EDAW of Alexandria, Va., one of the world's largest landscape design firms, and Copley Wolff Design Group, a Boston company with extensive Big Dig experience, will be charged with implementing the final design for the key blocks reaching from Christopher Columbus Park to High Street and the Boston Harbor Hotel.

Turnpike officials noted that the winning team's proposal, though containing some bold features, is modest by comparison with some among the four other finalists whose features included a water-filled canal and a broad zig-zagging plank boardwalk stretching from north to south through urban groves of trees, among others.

''This is the start of something fantastic,'' Turnpike chairman Matthew Amorello said in his office yesterday, surveying the 30-by-40-inch display boards that were submitted by the five Wharf District finalists.

Although some of the concepts bordered on the outlandish - and Turnpike officials said some would certainly be outlandishly expensive to construct and maintain - they are all expected to be stirred into the mix for public discussion over the next year or so.

EDAW, which will lead the design team, has done prominent landscaping and urban design projects throughout the world, including the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France; the China World Trade Center in Beijing; the Asia and Pacific Trade Center in Fukuoka, Japan; Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta; and Royal Victoria Square in London.

For Boston's Surface Artery, it will be one of three teams of designers for three separate sections of Surface Artery acreage from Causeway to Kneeland streets. The process of choosing final designs for each section will include public meetings, ideas, and responses, and is intended to create an important public strip of downtown that has been blighted for 50 years by the elevated Central Artery.

Of the three, the Wharf District is the heart of the 30-acre park on the land once covered by the highway, and is therefore the most important.

Wallace Floyd Design Group along with Gustafson Partnership were chosen about six weeks ago to design the Surface Artery open-space parcels in the North End. The last of the three design teams to be chosen, for a relatively small park parcel in the Chinatown and Leather District area, is scheduled to be announced next Monday.

To win the right to work on the Wharf District, EDAW and Copley Wolff outranked the team of Wallace Roberts & Todd and West 8, which came in second. Ranked in no particular order, Turnpike officials said, were the three other finalist teams, led by Michael Van Valkenburgh, Michel Desvigne, and the Civitas company.

The winning team was chosen in a 4-1 vote of the five-person selection committee, which includes not only Turnpike representatives but also two from the city of Boston and one from the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs.

Fred Yalouris, director of architecture for the Big Dig, emphasized that finalists were paid for their concepts, all of which are now the property of the authority and can be used in the final design process - or discarded.

''Each one has its own uniqueness, some major overriding feature,'' Yalouris said yesterday.

Amorello and Yalouris said the winning team, EDAW and Copley Wolff, showed ''a really detailed understanding of how these parcels work as parks.'' The winning team's display summarized how the design would look in New England's radically different seasons - including a grassy summertime square that could be flooded in winter and turned into a skating surface.

Copley Wolff, a local design firm, is familiar with the Central Artery/Ted Williams Tunnel project and particularly the downtown landscape, having held the contract that designed most of the sidewalks and curbs that outline the Surface Artery acreage.

At a Feb. 4, 2003, evening event scheduled for the Boston Public Library, the concepts of all the teams that were in competition for the three Artery sections - North End, Wharf District, and Chinatown/Leather District - will be on display to be evaluated by architectural specialists and the public.

The Wharf District final design teams were instructed to fit their ideas roughly within a to-design-and-build budget of $18 million. The Big Dig, overseen by the Turnpike, has set aside $31 million for the entire corridor.

Yalouris said most of the ideas presented met that requirement - though, clearly, a proposal for building deep-water canals would exceed the budget, he said. So would building a mosaic out of variously placed wood planks to form a five-block boardwalk for skateboarders and pedestrians.

Among the other proposals for the Wharf District were:

  • The boardwalk, which Yalouris described as ''vast public passages,'' skirting a water pool in the corridor just south of State Street, submitted by Wallace Roberts. ''This was a strong team,'' Yalouris said, though he noted that the boardwalks were interspersed with a series of modernistic pavilions along the way that also would be costly.

  • The five-block canal option with raised bridges carrying auto traffic overhead, proposed by the Civitas team. ''They're bold,'' Yalouris said of the team members that came up with the Venice-in-Boston-like proposal. The canal design features adjustable water levels, modernistic overpasses, and urban island parks.

  • A vast, hilly set of parks and greenspace that actually in some locations rises over the cross streets, suggested by Michael Van Valkenburgh, a local designer working with Greenburg Consultants. One pavilion in the Van Valkenburgh drawing was underground, with what appears to be a diaphanous roof at ground level.

  • And a ''just do Olmsted'' approach by French designer Michel Desvigne, working with the Cecil Group. ''He was fascinated by Frederick Law Olmsted,'' said Yalouris, referring to the 19th century designer responsible for Boston's so-called Emerald Necklace of parks. The Olmsted-inspired plan calls for planting hundreds of trees in the five-block space. Those would eventually be pruned and replaced by public spaces, water features, or other structures dedicated to public needs that arise over time.

    ''In its own way it's radical,'' said Yalouris. ''Just do trees.''

    This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 12/24/2002.
    © Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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