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Adriaan Geuze / Daniel Vasini

Frontier City

Spring 2016/17

Studio Report

Adriaan Geuze / Daniel Vasini

Frontier City: Strategies for Boston Harbor


Frontier City: Strategies for Boston Harbor Studio Instructors Adriaan Geuze Daniel Vasini Students Mengqing Chen, Tim Clark, Bennett Gale, Jeremy Hartley, Anita Helfrich, Lisa Hollywood, Xiaoyin Kuang, Ruichao Li, Chen Lu, Ambrose Luk, Andrew Madl, Mailys Meyer, Fani Papadopoulou, Maria Gloria Robalino, Mann Peeraphol Sangthongjai, Keith Scott, Samantha Solano, Stephen Sun, Sarah Winston, Angela Xiao, Sherry Yang, Hui Yuan, Jenny Ni Zhan, Xin Zhao Studio Contributors The Cultural Landscape Foundation, Stevens Institute of Technology, National Park Service, Imagine Boston 2030, Utile Design, WeWork Final Review Critics Brian AvilĂŠs, Anita Berrizbeitia, Charles Birnbaum, Alan Blumberg, Darrick Borowski, Tim Love Guests Richard de Neufville, MIT Institute for Data, Systems, and Society; Julie Wormser, Boston Harbor Now; Mia Goldwasser, Climate Ready Boston, City of Boston; Peter Rieff, NACO Airport Consultancy & Engineering; Philip M. Orton, Stevens Institute of Technology

8 Preface Frontier, Over Again Anita Berrizbeitia 10 Research Daniel Vasini 18 Introduction Strategies for a Boston Harbor Innovation City Adriaan Geuze

Colonizing the Harbor


Drumlin City Mengqing Chen


Common Islands Lisa Hollywood

32 Terminal Island Mann Peeraphol Sangthongjai 38 iCity Angela Xiao

Building with Nature


Shifting Grids Andrew Madl


The Anti-­­­Fragile Harbor Stephen Sun


Living Labs Xin Zhao


Essay The Urban Ocean and its Connection to Boston Alan Blumberg

Connecting the Archipelago

102 resource.full Fani Papadopoulou 106

City of Bridges Anita Helfrich


Synergy Harbor Ambrose Luk


Essay Utopian Opportunism Tim Love

Adaptive Reuse

Unearthing Olmsted


Living with Water Ruichao Li


Wild Innovation Sarah Winston

120 SeaBiosis Chen Lu


Bird Islands Hui Yuan


2100: Island City Jenny Ni Zhan



Columbus Avenue Innovation District Sherry Yang

Essay The Infrastructure of Innovation is Community Darrick Borowski


Emerald Territories Samantha Solano 134

Project Overview


Lost Islands/Found Islands Tim Clark




Essay Extending the Emerald Necklace Charles Birnbaum


Essay Audacious Stewardship Brian Avilés


Frontier, Over Again

It is a provocation to use the word “frontier” in a city of American origins. So much that is still with us emanated from the hub of ideas and experiments between what Charles Eliot called, in 1893, the city’s “two wildernesses”: the ring of hills that form its western edge and the “untamable sea.” Boston is indeed a city of firsts: the first insurgency against autocratic colonial rule, the first public school, the first public library, the first metropolitan-scale public park system, the first subway system, and so on. Yet cities are not singular; they accrue, over time, different interpretations of the larger visions of past leaders. Almost 400 years after its founding, Boston is a collection of vestiges of its economic and social history: the colonial center, the 19th-century expansion over the Back Bay, the first and second suburban iterations, its industrial clusters at the perimeter, the big gestures of urban renewal, the new waterfront district, and old commons, victory gardens, canals, dams, playgrounds, forest reservations, systems of linked parks and streams, skate parks, and urban agriculture. The quality is uneven, as is the spatial distribution of its prized public landscapes. Boston has not been immune to economic downturns, to disinvestment, and to environmental and social inequity. The harbor itself has also been in continuous evolution, and it has not fared very well. Protected from the open ocean by layers of islands, it was the ideal setting for the founding of a maritime city. Yet from the beginning, it began to transform radically through land reclamation and deforestation, both of which accelerated the harbor’s environmental decay. The islands have long served a variety of purposes, from military forts to a prison and a hospital, as well as a few private uses. Boston’s wilderness became fully urbanized during the 20th century, with the

Anita Berrizbeitia

construction of Logan Airport and the installation of Boston’s wastewater treatment facility on Deer Island. No longer supporting the city’s primary economy, today the harbor has in fact become Boston’s back door. And although near, the remaining 34 islands (from an initial 45) are isolated and in neglect. Sea rise and storm events of increasing strength and frequency have put questions of how the city should respond to changing conditions in its historical and deteriorating harbor at the forefront of public debates. The Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD) has engaged the challenge of climate change and its effects on urban and coastal environments for the past decade in a variety of locations through advanced design studios on Miami Beach, Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, Houston, Los Angeles, and further afield in many sites overseas. The recent Boston Harbor studio was led by Adriaan Geuze, founding partner of West 8, and Daniel Vasini, creative director in the same firm. West 8 brings extensive expertise on the topic of adaptation to sea rise, most recently in their proposal “Blue Dunes: The Future of Coastal Protection,” a proposal for a chain of barrier islands to protect the New York–New Jersey harbor from storm surge.1 However, in contrast to this work, and to most protective barriers that focus on soft infrastructure—large earthen structures that double as habitat and opportunities for recreation—Geuze and Vasini directed their students to consider a range of possibilities, from purely landscape interventions to combinations of barrier and urban expansion. By moving away from the need to design only for protection (i.e., a storm barrier), emphasis was placed on a broader consideration of what the greater benefits of such a new district at the interface of harbor and city would be for


Developed in collaboration with WXY architecture + urban design, AIR Worldwide, ARCADIS, BJH Advisors, Center for Urban Real Estate, NowHere Office, Parsons School of Design, Rutgers University, Griffith Urban Planning & Design, Stevens Institute of Technology, and Verisk Analytics.


the city as a whole. The proposals demonstrate a wide scope of approaches and scales of intervention, yet they all demonstrate how rethinking the future of the harbor can address key aspects of the city that are lagging behind, such as public transportation, easy access to the harbor islands, and better connectivity between the city and the harbor for a greater segment of the population. The old harbor is Boston’s new great opportunity. Urban landscapes emerge as a response to, but also in conjunction with, particular visions of the city, and this studio is no exception. It reimagines Boston Harbor in the context of what are known as innovation cities: share economy, renewable energy, smart transportation systems—all of which are characteristics that place greater emphasis on the quality of the public realm, sustainability, new values about social life, direct engagement with nature, health, and the landscape of the harbor. Herein lies the great potential of the harbor: How will it write the new chapter in the history of Boston? What notions of nature will this geographical reorganization of the city elicit? How will it redefine the 21st-century city? Finally, the question of what is of public utility versus what is beneficial only for private interests was at the center of public debates throughout the 19th century, particularly in regard to access to natural resources, and to the provision of infrastructure, public services, and recreational space. Such a debate was not only central to securing the future of the harbor, when filling over the tidal flats was unregulated, but also it permeated many aspects of the city and its culture. From these debates emerged the institutions and modes of governance that became the foundations upon which the growth and development of the city and its culture were built. Today, these debates flare up after a major flood or a catastrophic hurricane. Climate change and sea rise will inevitably lead to revisiting the tensions between public need and the weight of private influence. Who will pay, who and what will be protected, and what are the priorities? Many of the projects presented here suggest such a combination of public utility and private development, pointing to the need to redefine modes of governance, cross-sectoral collaboration, and the redrawing of jurisdictions and boundaries so that Boston can inhabit its new, now eastward-facing, frontier.

Daniel Vasini




water at high tide and known collectively as the Back Bay. The Charles River flowed through the Back Bay to Boston Harbor and separated the peninsula from the mainland to the north and west. To the east, Town Cove indented Boston’s harbor and divided the city into the North End and the South End. The long shoreline, only a few minutes’ walk from any part of the peninsula, provided ample space for wharves and shipyards. From the first years of settlement, the shoreline constantly encroached on the harbor as wharves were built and marshy coves were filled. West of the original settlement lay Boston Common, a tract that has remained open public space since its purchase by the town in 1634. 11

Coastal Morphology Boston Harbor is part of the Boston Basin, a bedrock-exposed area of topographic lowland underlain by sedimentary layers deposited at the end of the Precambrian Era. In the last 100,000 years, two separate periods of glaciations formed the hills that cap most islands in the Boston Harbor and created the current hydrological system, which consists of the Charles, Mystic, and Neponset watersheds. The cores of many harbor islands are formed by drumlins—asymmetrical, elongated masses of till shaped into smoothsloped hills on the Boston Basin lowlands. In profile, they look like upside-down teaspoons. As the climate warmed and the glacier receded from the Boston area some 15,000 years ago, the melting of glacial ice raised the level of the ocean, eventually creating this section of the basin and isolating the islands. Drumlins may occur as scattered single hills or in so-called swarms. The Boston Harbor Islands are a geological rarity: they are part of the only drumlin swarm in the United States that intersects a coastline. Unlike many of the 200 drumlins in the Boston Basin, this “drowned” swarm is composed of 30 drumlins that are not all molded in the direction of glacial flow. Many islands contain more than one drumlin. Natural coastal processes, from sea level rise and climate change to northeast storms, continue to reshape these island landforms. Rates of erosion on the islands can be dramatic; in general, the highest rates of coastal erosion occur along beaches facing north and east, which are the dominant directions for winds and seas during storms. The shifting shores of Thompson Island illustrate this process of erosion and sedimentation.

In colonial days, Boston Harbor was a place of coastal beauty where one could smell the tides—an elegant convergence of land and sea. Twice a day, flood tides rolled in and raised the water level around the city’s wharves. Seawater filled the large mudflats. It was a dynamic estuary system in flux.

Colony At the beginning of English settlement in the 17th century, the Shawmut Peninsula was called “Trimountain” because of the dominating three-topped hill drumlin on its northwest corner, near the mouth of the Charles River. Beacon Hill is its only surviving, though greatly reduced, remnant. The other portions were leveled to become landfill, which was used to add to the city’s area in the 19th century. The hilly Shawmut Peninsula, upon which Boston was settled, was originally almost completely surrounded by water. It was connected with the mainland to the south by a narrow neck of land, along the line of present-day Washington Street. To the west of the neck were great reaches of mudflats and salt marshes that were covered by

Trade Through necessity, New Englanders turned to the sea for their livelihoods and became shipbuilders, merchants, seamen, and fishermen. The Shawmut Peninsula was an ideal setting for a seaport. It was described in 1634 by William Wood in his New England’s Prospect as “fittest for such as can Trade into England, for such commodities as the Country wants, being the chief place for shipping and Merchandize.” With the triumph of the Puritan Party in England in 1648, people moved freely between New England and England, as close ties of family and trade linked Boston with London.

Opposite: Bird’s-eye view of Boston Harbor, ca. 1923.

Above: Drumlins of the Boston Basin.

Fortress Cities have been built for economic and military purposes since the Middle Ages. As was tradition, landowners and lords who expanded their territory built new towns on virgin land. In the 17th century, fortification engineers were specially trained in order to supervise the construction of defense structures. During the Siege of Boston in 1775, the Second Continental Congress authorized the building of fortifications. Fortifications were raised by building mounds of dirt and fences, and they were reinforced with vegetation and brush. Colonists were able to fire at the British from behind these fortifications. The engineers responsible for building them proved so valuable to

Boston became a center of trade for the Americas with the British Empire. The London Company, also known as the Virgina Company, was established for the trading of goods with America. Mercantile cities also developed along the East Coast, which grew rapidly due to immigrants from Europe who were attracted by the region’s increasing prosperity. In order for the cities to expand, marshland had to be made suitable for construction, often by employing complicated techniques. Digging an enclosing canal provided drainage and yielded soil for raising the level of the land and protective embankments. In order to protect this wealth, the cities were fortified with city walls, fortified gateways, and bulwarks.

the Revolutionary forces that, four years later, Congress formed the Corps of Engineers. The engineers enjoyed the same rights, honors, and privileges that other troops did, but they were also in charge of many varieties of construction projects, and they still are today. More often, they addressed the expansion and reinforcing of existing cities with fortifications along the water. During the Revolutionary War, Georges Island, large enough to contain a rampart, crumbled into the sea. Castle Island, a 22-acre recreational site located at the end of Carson Beach on Pleasure Bay in South Boston, is the site of the historic landmark Fort Independence. Castle Island was an island until several land reclamations and extended roadways formed through the years, connecting it with the mainland. Castle Island



Bostonians erected the first lighthouse in North America, and by the end of the 17th century Boston’s fleet of seagoing vessels was exceeded in the English-speaking world only by those of London and Bristol. Boston held its status as the largest town in British North America until the middle of the 18th century, when it fell behind the faster-growing ports of Philadelphia and New York City. Thanks to the gravitational pull of trade, Boston started to develop along waterways at the end of the 18th century. With the construction of dikes, dams, and canals, settlements in areas that were previously perceived inadequate transformed into merchant cities with wharves, quays, piers, warehouses, and shipyards.

Fort Warren on Georges Island, 2010.

Fill In the last years of the 18th century, when space in the city became scarce, a series of major changes began to transform the urban landscape. During that period of expansion, the architect Charles Bulfinch, who was also the head of the town government for more than 25 years, skillfully transformed an 18th-century English town into a 19th-century American city. Bulfinch designed the central portion of the present-day State House, located above Boston Common on Beacon Hill. The construction of the State House led to the conversion of the upland pastures of Beacon Hill into a handsome residential district that has survived with relatively little change. Between the State House and Charles Street are

there with their families, as did some prominent loyalists. Long recognized for its strategic location, the fort also helped protect Boston from British attack during the War of 1812.

several streets that comprise an area protected by historic district legislation, now designated as the Historic Beacon Hill District. As pressures of population in the 19th century caused a growing demand for land, hills were leveled to fill in the coves. So much new land was created that the former peninsula became an indistinguishable part of the mainland. Landfill in both sides of the narrow neck that connected the peninsula with the mainland created a new South End. The waterfront


Daniel Vasini

is where the past, present, and future of Boston collide. It is not just a destination, but also a state of mind—where else in Boston can a person be surrounded by both the ocean and one of the country’s oldest military fortifications? The first five-sided fort was built in 1643. Originally called Fort William and Mary by the English, it was renamed Fort Independence in 1779. The present structure, built between 1834 and 1851, is the eighth generation of forts, and it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. During the Siege of Boston at the start of the American Revolution, “Castle William” served as the main base of military operations for the British. The leaders of the Massachusetts royal administration took refuge

Map of Boston showing original land in relationship to fill, ca. 1880.

It linked the Common, the Public Garden, and Commonwealth Avenue with Franklin Park by way of a string of parks—including the Back Bay Fens—that combined water, woods, and meadows along an open park known as the Fenway, which followed the Muddy River between central Boston and Jamaica Plain. This string of green space, now better known as the Emerald Necklace, made up the first park system in the world. In 1910, a dam was built that kept the harbor tides out of the Charles River, and converted the remaining unfilled portion of the Back Bay into a body of fresh water. The Charles River basin—surrounded by parkland and patterned on the Alster River basin in Hamburg,

nuisance, and the Massachusetts Legislature authorized the filling of that extensive area. The adopted plan provided for four new streets parallel to the Mill Dam known as Beacon Street, to be intersected by crossroads. Boston was an overcrowded, noisy, and dirty city.

Germany—remains one of the most distinctive and popular features of Boston. In 1870, the park system that emerged in Boston was due to Olmsted’s intricate work, and served beyond its expectations of merely attractive landscape but also exemplified methods of an unprecedented planning process not yet utilized by developers in Boston at the time. Olmsted supervised the construction and planning of the park system from 1879 to 1895, and his work is one of the biggest projects endorsed by the Boston municipality during this era. In a letter to the Park Commission, Olmsted proposed an elaborate plan that sought to incorporate economic and cultural dynamics into the park system, which is now an idealized heritage of town life in Boston. Olmsted’s plan addressed issues that Boston was struggling with, such as the division of social classes. He aimed to create a public space that was within reach for all but could also act as a remedy for social ills. In addition, he made suggestions to address the physical issues of the sewage problem happening in Back Bay. While the commissioner planned to build a



was greatly extended, and the Back Bay was dammed in the early 1820s to create tidal power for new mill sites. A causeway along the dam extended west from Boston Common to today’s Kenmore Square, thus furnishing more-direct access with the mainland. The filling of the Back Bay flats just west of the Common created land that was laid out as the Public Garden in the 1830s. It became a splendidly planted area with an artificial pond that is still leisurely traversed by swan-shaped boats in the summer. The Back Bay mill basins never developed as their promoters had envisioned, partly because the construction of railway lines through them in the 1830s hindered the flow of water. The basins became a foul-smelling

Conservation Both the health and happiness of Bostonians were restricted because of these unhealthy surroundings. In the late 19th century, a citizens group petitioned the city to reserve space for public parks in order to encourage community and a sense of identity in public space. In response to the petition, the City of Boston created a Park Commission with the responsibility of two key agendas: first, to establish a park system; and second, to fix the sewage problem occurring in the Back Bay. When the Back Bay was nearing completion in the 1880s, Frederick Law Olmsted developed an imaginative large-scale design for the city’s parks. Suggestions for Improvement of the Muddy River by Frederick Law Olmsted, 1880.

Industrial Decline The American economy began to shift by the end of the 20th century, as traditional post– Industrial Revolution economies gave way to a knowledge-based economy. Manufacturing industries adjusted to lower wages and cheaper production, fuel prices dropped, and transportation by air cargo was no longer a luxury, which caused the abandonment of industrial sites and decreased investment in great infrastructure. Today, the great majority of American coastal cities are neglected from their waterfronts by crumbling infrastructure and prohibited access. The Boston Harbor is an example of this: it contains a patchwork of decaying infrastructure, a former military base,

tous because it created a platform for the role of government in determining the appearance of the city. In 1897, Olmsted laid out plans to line Columbia Road with two rows of trees and turn it into Dorchester Way, a boulevard as grand and graceful as the Back Bay Fens and the Arborway. More than a century later, Boston is vowing to resurrect Olmsted’s plans and elevate humble, sun-baked Columbia Road into a pantheon of parks—a verdant “pleasure way,” as Olmsted called it. It is hard to imagine the asphalt artery of Columbia Road in Dorchester was once envisioned as the final jewel in the Emerald Necklace.

a missile launch site, aged docklands, rail yards, decommissioned sewers, shooting rings, bridge relics, and a decrepit psychiatric facility. The current-day knowledge-based enterprises are taking ownership of unoccupied, vacant, or inhospitable sites, formerly home to industrial sites. Tech industries and new work environments have resulted in a new world of social reorganization, and online communication is now the driving force of social evolution. It makes feasible the transformation of an industrial district into a desirable environment.


Daniel Vasini

storm drain to alleviate this dilemma, Olmsted urged a different plan: he proposed to revamp an undesirable border which he would call the Back Bay Fen, while utilizing the same area to provide an effective conduit for flood waters. Olmsted’s vision and strategic planning solved some of Boston’s prominent problems during a period of unstructured government organization in land-use planning. His plan for the Back Bay Fen was the first development of the park system that would soon expand and become known as the Emerald Necklace, a strand of roadways connecting parks and outlying sections of the city with the peninsula to help beautify and unify Boston. Olmsted’s pioneering work in designing the city’s park system was momen-

Fort Point Channel area, ca. 1898–1907.

space, and greenery. To that end, older areas in the inner cities had to be cleared for large-scale urban planning, with its generously dimensioned residential blocks, broad traffic arteries, and metro lines. Rivers were diverted and new waterways and reservoirs were constructed in order to provide the city with clean drinking water. Extensive underground sewer systems ensured the safe discharge of dirty water. Parks were established around new waterways and reservoirs and on the waterfronts in port areas. This introduced a new form of “urban water,” which provided the city more “lung capacity” and fulfilled an important recreational function. However, the latest surveys for today’s shifting economies in the realm of goods transit

steam engine made mass production possible, and steam-powered ships transported goods faster and in greater quantities across the seven seas. Quays in port areas were extended, and moorings, docks, cranes, and warehouses were built. The business activity in the new port areas attracted many workers, all of whom needed a roof over their heads. In the New World, cities such as New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia expanded exponentially due to the influx of immigrant workers from Europe and the American plains. In countries where the Industrial Revolution took hold, many cities became overpopulated and polluted. Concurrently, the new industrial elite wanted cities with panache,

is illustrating a dramatic shift from the traditional maritime container to an increasing demand by air cargo, leaving behind the need for the expansion of port land, but demanding pressure on bigger airport infrastructures.



Container Metropolis The world’s big shipping companies have jointly decided to concentrate their container terminals in 10 deep-sea ports. These ports are therefore evolving into container metropolises with facilities for mammoth ships and automated container transshipment, great bundles of infrastructure, and extensive distribution and assembly parks. The container metropolis is also an attractive business location for commercial enterprises and business in the field of logistical services. In turn, the vigorous development of the container ports stimulates other urban sectors, such as financial, knowledge, and cultural networks. The Industrial Revolution led to the rapid growth of port cities throughout the world. The

The Conley Container Terminal with Downtown Boston in the background.

Campus City Since its early beginnings, the settlement of Boston developed concurrently with the formation of great cultural and education institutions. The Greater Boston area is home to the nation’s oldest institution of higher education as well as a series of world-renowned academic institutions and universities. Universities and colleges are a source of knowledge-based economy, which is very much present as a pivot industry that resides in the layout of their campuses. Almost like self-contained cities, campus

The traditional Yankee elite, of mainly English origin, remained in the central Boston neighborhoods of Beacon Hill and Back Bay and dominated many of the city’s economic institutions, while the Irish, Italian, Jewish, and other immigrant groups occupied many of the outlying neighborhoods and gained control over the city’s political life. Climate Adaptation Climate adaptation is a response to global warming, climate change, and rising sea levels that seeks to reduce the vulnerability of social and biological systems to sudden change and thus offset the effects of global warming.


Daniel Vasini

organizations look to compose urban tissue that is very much driven by a pedestrian scale among a collection of buildings. In hopes of promoting interface among disciplines, faculty, and students, common spaces become places of exchange. Most campus designs adopt traditional courtyard layouts or strive toward a classic Roman Forum layout, where symmetry is a key structure for organization. In the late 20th century, office parks, mostly located in suburbia, pursued a campus form. Now, innovation districts place new demand for campus generation, as they look to establish themselves as immediate sources of knowledge at the doorstep of the city center.

Boston University, Allston, MA

Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

Kendall Square, Cambridge, MA

MIT, Cambridge, MA

Seaport Innovation District, Boston, MA

UMass Boston, Boston, MA

Subcultures of Boston Between 1800 and 1900, Boston transformed from a relatively simple seaport of some 24,000 inhabitants with mainly English ancestry to a city with a diverse population of more than 560,000. The burgeoning population in the 19th century was the result of a succession of immigrant waves that increased the total by at least 25 percent in each decade from 1810 to 1900. While the Irish were the most impacted immigrant group during the 19th century, Boston also received a new wave of immigrants who mainly came from southern and eastern Europe, including Italians and Jews, from the late 1880s through the 1910s. Comparison of academic and innovation campuses in Boston.

Coastal cities around the world are the most vulnerable assets to the consequences of rising sea levels, extreme weather conditions, and storm surge. The beginning of the 21st century is characterized by the imperative that coastal cities need to take the initiative to promote studies and develop visions and strategies toward climate adaptation, mitigation, and cultivating more resilient landscapes that can live with water. The Boston Climate Ready Team, Imagine Boston 2030, and the National Park Service Coastal Adaptation Strategies Handbook are pioneering great first steps to survive future natural events.


Strategies for a Boston Harbor Innovation City

Within a worldwide network of innovation regions, Boston transformed itself into one of the most powerful. This contemporary Boston region will promote research and development for information technology, aviation, technology, robotics, and design. Simultaneous with the threat of and vulnerability felt by climate change, the Boston region is craving an urban transformation to accommodate a fast-growing population of highly educated professionals who identify with a contemporary urban lifestyle in which soft values are important: family, social engagement, neighborhood, culture, media and exchange, health, food, green space, ecology, and sustainability in the broadest sense. They share rather than own. They prefer public transportation and bicycles over the car. The metropolitan region became a catalyst for new businesses, institutions, and international professionals. Boston’s institutions and corporate industries are magnets for catalyzing initiatives and new international professionals. Despite that, Boston never gave up on its unpolished, 19th-century industrial city identity balanced by the never-dying cliché of a high-brow, New England–style Arcadian innocence. It is a process of growing pains to transform from a colonial harbor town via an industrialized city toward a contemporary international innovation hub. Boston should be ready to take radical steps in order to reach this next stage in its urban evolution. There are several domains for recalibration: infrastructure, urban layout, healthy neighborhoods, public space and transportation, sustainability, and housing affordability. Although Boston’s Big Dig is considered an early example of America’s urban renaissance thanks to its renewal of invasive downtown corridor infrastructure, large parts of the city still echo isolation, urban decay, and fragmentation.

Adriaan Geuze

Surprisingly, the outlying area of Boston Harbor, Quincy Bay, South Boston, and its shoreline has a reputation of spoiled paradise. Many great metropolitan regions celebrate their waterfronts, ocean views, and coastal islands; however, in Boston, generations of residents have grown used to the bay being colonized for an unprecedented collection of unwanted land uses that couldn’t be accommodated elsewhere: Logan Airport with airplanes flying every 20 seconds within feet of your head; waste dumps; military bases and fortifications; fire stations; a mental health hospital; a shooting range; and wind turbines. The unique qualities of the original bay area have eroded into a wasteland where people are not even allowed to exist. Luckily the peripheral islands were brought into the stewardship of the National Park Service. How can the aspiration to become an Innovation City implement a new urban DNA for Boston? How can it be a greener and more ocean-facing city? Why not focus on public transportation and infrastructure for bicycles? What if half the housing stock was affordable for young people through an inclusive, multicultural approach that prioritized neighborhood values? The Necklace Boston carries the Frederick Law Olmsted legacy of the Emerald Necklace, the world’s first regional park system, which successfully guided the urban development of the city. This chain started at the Boston Common and the newly built banks of the Charles River, and culminated into Franklin Park, Columbus Drive, and the edges of Boston Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean. How can the Necklace be an inspiration for today? Why not work from this great, green urban structure, from the collective memory of catalyzing urbanity through public green invest-

19 Title


iv. ii.


ment, and from the overwhelming narrative of a necklace reaching into the Atlantic Ocean? Innovation City Recently, the awareness of rising sea levels and the principle vulnerability of all Boston shorelines and neighborhoods fueled a debate about future sustainability. Beyond this charge, the Harvard GSD organized two successive design studios to speculate and research options for an Innovation City projected over the harbor. Boston as an innovation hub could potentially benefit from rethinking the interface between city and ocean, with the creation of new attractive urbanity embedded sustainably and ecologically. For this, a think tank was created and supported by the Harvard GSD (especially Dean Mohsen Mostafavi and Anita Berrizbeitia, chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture), in collaboration with


the National Park Service, Imagine Boston 2030, the Cultural Landscape Foundation, and the Davidson Laboratory at the Stevens Institute of Technology. Through this partnership, more than 20 students brought new perspectives and guidelines for reimagining the harbor. From here, five relevant aspirations were formalized, and are expanded in the following sections: Colonizing the Harbor, Unearthing Olmsted, Building with Nature, Connecting the Larger Archipelago, and Adaptive Reuse.

This studio features projects that reimagine Boston as a city that can: i. colonize the harbor (page 22); ii. unearth Olmsted’s legacy (page 48); iii. build with nature (page 80); iv. connect to the larger archipelago (page 100); and v. reclaim old channels through adaptive reuse (page 116).

Colonizing the Harbor

22 Aerial photograph of the land reclamation process around Logan Airport, 1929.


The larger Boston Harbor, which contains many sub-areas (Boston Inner Harbor, Boston Harbor, Quincy Bay, Hingham Bay, Dorchester Bay, Old Harbor, President Roads, Nantasket Roads, Little Brewster Island, the Graves, and deeper into the Atlantic Ocean), has been in a process of geologic and landscape decay since the founding of Boston. The islands—known from so many historic paintings and engravings—have lost their picturesque splendor. The most radical approach for the harbor’s recolonization could be to move Logan Airport, which would free the entire harbor area from flight paths and redevelop it into a prototype for an Innovation City. A new ocean-born airport in front of the bay could be engineered in a way that would protect the entire bay area from storm surge, and sedimentary processes would bring estuary marshes. As such, this radical recolonization could bring a large Venice-like lagoon city next to Downtown Boston, benefiting from short distances to public transit, rapid train connection, and bicycle infrastructure. The work of two students, Lisa Hollywood in “Common Islands” and Mann Peeraphol Sangthongjai in “Terminal Island,” is an example of progressive planning. The projects give a panorama for urbanism and landscape architecture through engineering. Several students present programmatic/architectural interventions over the islands or land reclamation projects to introduce a new urbanity to balance with the bay as a lagoon. In “iCity,” Angela Xiao hypothesizes the introduction of Babyloninspired architectural features over the harbor so it becomes a new ocean-facing identity and host to multiple programs. Mengqing Chen’s “Drumlin City” researches the potential for a new urban branch reaching into the ocean. Many types of innovative urbanism, including channels and docks, could be realized and made possible by public transit and advanced ferry systems.


Drumlin City

Mengqing Chen

“Drumlin City” proposes a new type of development that preserves the remnant drumlins in Boston Harbor while creating new districts around them. Boston was the epicenter of innovation and invention from the 17th century to the middle of the 19th century. However, at the same time as this industrial boom, Boston’s geological features vanished. Currently, a culture of innovation and invention is rising in Boston, bringing more people and greater demand for land. New districts such as South Boston are underdeveloped and share few resources. This project reconfigures Boston’s intellectual and geographic center, taking advantage of the open water in Boston Harbor. Unlike land reclamation in the past, which ignored and covered the geology of Boston, the new development will take place around the drumlins, preserving the natural formations for wildlife and citizens. The project uses the conceptual axis between Franklin Park and the historic Boston Light lighthouse on Little Brewster Island. Phase 1 of the project connects the remaining drumlins with new development, and Phase 2 extends the influence of the development onto land and all the way to Franklin Park by means of an ecological meander, reinvigorating the neighborhood. The axis generates a central spine for development, and provides both a green corridor and a public space for citizens.

Aerial view of “Drumlin City.”

Drumlin City

26 Top: District Plan.

Middle: Open-space network.

Bottom: Hydrological systems.


Mengqing Chen

Long Island Spectacle Island

Site plan.


Common Islands

Lisa Hollywood

Predicated on the relocation of Logan Airport, this project envisions the redevelopment of 1,800 acres in the center of Boston. Building upon the city’s history of land-making, the airport is moved to a constructed island in the outer harbor, which is designed to mitigate flood impact. In East Boston, a new residential and commercial hub is ecologically integrated into the city through the redirection and extension of the Emerald Necklace, shifting the center of Boston toward the harbor and reinstating its identity as a city of islands, or “Common Islands.” Redeveloped East Boston addresses the crises of housing affordability and climate change, and becomes a testing ground for potential urban landscapes. A high-speed rail connects the new airport, East Boston, and downtown. Presenting a model of urbanism that relies more on shared systems, former airport parking garages become shared lots while a light rail promotes alternate modes of circulation. A Smart Manufacturing Zone accommodates shifting employment patterns by bolstering university partnerships and providing vocational training for locals. These systems suggest a new way of life in Boston—one that allows for increased density, accounts for societal shifts, and serves as a platform for a city integrated with the harbor and its archipelago of islands.

Illustrative plan.

Common Islands

30 Top: Aerial view of Boston’s new center.

Bottom: Increasingly transient lifestyles and rising rents are tackled through instituting zones for short-term leases, free parcels, and community land trusts.


Lisa Hollywood


01 03


05 Regulations 01. Free parcels: develop infrastructure if built 02. Community land trust; FAR 5 03. Short-term leases; FAR 3 04. Adaptive Reuse Zone 05. Fabrication zone; FAR 10 06. No height limit

Diagrams of intent.



Terminal Island

Mann Peeraphol Sangthongjai

“Terminal Island” seeks to establish a symbiotic relationship between urban development and its natural environment. This project considers Logan Airport itself as a form of urbanism to be developed as an island in its own right. The afterlives of the airport can take various forms: residential and commercial neighborhoods, public urban parks, and nature reserves—all of which provide numerous opportunities for Boston’s urban development. After relocation, “Terminal Island” helps Boston Harbor, which historically served as an important harbor, become a critical aviation hub. In addition, the new airport infrastructure is both a prerequisite for and a result of the contemporary global economy, as it enables an expanded flow of goods and people that has led to the concept of Boston as a global city. At the same time, the project offers a rich mix of typologies and programs embedded in a reimagined green environment while also bringing back the spectacular identity of Boston Harbor. It envisions a new kind of natural environment that houses various institutions in the hope of building a better urban ecological system, which will eventually protect the city from various development pressures.

Aerial of proposed airport barrier island.

Above: Different interfaces between recreation, ecology, and infrastructure.

Opposite page: Phasing of barrier island construction and airport and salt marsh expansion.

Phase 2: 10-20 years

Phase 3: 20-25 years

Phase 4: 25-30 years

Phase 5: 30-60 years

Phase 6: 60-100 years


Mann Peeraphol Sangthonghjai

Phase 1: 0-10 years

Overview of Boston Harbor Islands with proposed airport (on right).



Angela Xiao

Inspired by Dali’s famous painting The Persistence of Memory, where the world becomes an empty desert and we are all random objects melting into the scene, this project finds it intriguing to picture ourselves as lonely individuals wandering in a big, bleak world; and the world becomes an exciting playground for the lonely children in all of us. In an attempt to envision the Frontier City in a spiritually surreal way, “iCity” endeavors to deconstruct the concept of city and reconstruct it into an abstract infrastructure mechanism. The project is a carol for modern idiosyncrasy. Conceiving the iPhone as a prototype for a pursuit of human individualism, “iCity” boldly pictures city wanderers virtually living in a conceptual iPhone, enjoying an almost sacred sense of independence and freedom. In this case, the urban fabric becomes a substantial network system supporting the mobility of those iPhones. The Frontier City in “iCity” represents a warship toward human individualization, modern mobilization, and urban revolution.

“Heading to Spectacle Island” tourism poster mock-up.


Integration: parking

Integration: bridge

Permanent unit prototype

Permanent unit transformation

New typical: round



Typical housing: pinch


Typical individualism: iPhone

Housing unit with parking structures

Conceptual diagram linking the iPhone to proposed construction typologies.


Temporary unit prototype


Opposite page: Aerial view of new “iCity� development.


Angela Xiao


Utopian Opportunism: Positioning the Frontier City within Politics, Practice, and Pedagogy

Tim Love

the City of Boston and the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), a state parks and parkways agency, the recreational and touristic access to the archipelago is managed by the National Park Service, a federal agency. This combination of bureaucracies, and their collective lack of reliable funding sources, has resulted in a land use strategy that is both inconsistent in approach and detached from the larger policy and planning decisions that are being tackled on the mainland. The physical landscape of the islands can be sublime at times, mostly because of benign neglect, but also alarmingly pedestrian due to sub-par infrastructure and the legacy of the islands as a dumping ground for industrial waste and social outsiders. Until recently, the islands were both the landfill for the polluted soil from the Big Dig and the location of the Boston’s largest homeless shelter. Adriaan Geuze and Daniel Vasini were able to step into this seemingly intractable situation with several advantages over the typical agency-led planning initiative. The first was the structure and approach of a university design studio itself. Land owners, politicians, and public agencies expect proposals that come out of university design programs to be highly speculative and utopian in outlook. In fact, the potential provocativeness of student work, coupled with the Harvard brand, can draw key stakeholders to design reviews. The relative pragmatism and technical thoroughness of the proposals in the West 8 studio meant that they had a higher impact on potential planning and policy initiatives than studio work that focuses on purely aesthetic or theoretical issues. A strategic disregard of the relatively narrow interests of the current owners and managers of the islands allowed the stu-


The municipalities at the center of most metropolitan areas in the United States and Canada occupy the majority of the urban core, allowing for policy issues to be debated and enacted under a single jurisdiction. While this framework does not always result in forward-looking initiatives, the structure and mechanisms for decision-making are relatively clear. The City of Boston, on the other hand, given its unique historical evolution, does not play the same dominant role in metropolitan policy discourse. Instead, it must negotiate large-scale planning and policy issues with multiple state agencies and several abutting cities that were not absorbed by Boston in the same way that other cities like Chicago and New York were able to expand through the consolidation of nearby towns. This has been especially challenging in the areas of transportation, economic development, the planning of industrial land, and the environment, including rising sea levels. This condition has resulted in a paradox. On the one hand, the surplus of municipalities and agencies means that there are always several well funded, although narrowly framed, planning initiatives going on at any one time. On the other hand, the overlapping and often competing interests of municipalities and state agencies require a realpolitik attitude toward urban design. As a result, the successful implementation of plans in the Boston area requires an understanding of the ever-changing political context, funding sources, and potential alignments with private interests. Unfortunately, however, this deep dive into the specific political circumstances of a problem often thwarts big-picture thinking and results in a lack of creativity and ambition beyond jurisdictional boundaries. The Boston Harbor Islands are one such contested territory. While mostly owned by

critical for the future evolution of Boston. With a heightened sense of urgency about sea level rise, the students’ imaginative proposals enter the public discourse at just the right time. Their collective vision is the perfect foil to the more narrowly defined plans that have been shaped by stakeholder self-interest, convoluted regulations, and a lack of professional imagination.

Utopian Opportunism


dio to consider the interests of stakeholders beyond the City of Boston, the DCR, and the National Park Service. Several of the proposals were predicated on a major role for the Massachusetts Port Authority, the Boston Planning & Development Agency, or one or several of Boston’s colleges and universities. There was also an economic development strategy at the core of each of the proposals. Most included the colonization of the islands for new urban neighborhoods that would both enrich the social life and culture of the archipelago and provide a financing vehicle for environmental remediation, infrastructure improvements, and large-scale solutions that help mitigate the effects of rising sea levels. This was combined with an understanding that these market-driven implementation strategies would also require significant public investments, given the scale of potential solutions. A West 8–led studio had another advantage over a locally led planning initiative. While the firm is based in the Netherlands, it understands the unique complexities of large American projects, given Geuze and Vasini’s experience leading the landscape design of Governors Island in New York City. While a cliché, the Dutch tradition of ambitious land reclamation, leveraging both engineered infrastructure and the manipulation of natural forces—and West 8’s participation in recent best practice efforts at this scale—had a significant impact on the focus and trajectory of the studio. Geuze and Vasini invited their past multidisciplinary collaborators to participate in the studio. This team of on-call specialists gave talks on their areas of expertise and helped frame the students’ specific technical and programmatic approaches. This resulted in thoughtfully grounded projects. In addition to their technical comprehensiveness, the student proposals were also visually compelling—important when sharing planning concepts with public officials and key stakeholders. The plans and renderings made a case for an ambitious approach to the harbor islands that synthesizes a comprehensive range of issues. Examples include harbor-wide hard and soft storm-water solutions, the potential of opening up some of the islands and associated fill to carefully managed development, and the relocation of Boston’s airport to a new barrier island as part of a regional flood mitigation strategy and to liberate the existing site for a new inner-city neighborhood. The interchange between entrenched stakeholders and the advocates of thoughtfully conceived and visually compelling proposals is


Tim Love Mid-review, 2015. Left to right: Charles Birnbaum, Daniel Vasini, Adriaan Geuze, Andrew Madl, Anita Berrizbeitia, Alan Blumberg, and Tim Love.

Unearthing Olmsted

48 City of Boston Plan for Columbia Road, connecting Franklin Park to Marine Park, 1897.


Climate change, sea level agendas, and Boston’s aspiration to become a city of innovation are all driving forces that would argue for the reinvention of Boston Harbor. Sherry Yang’s “Columbus Avenue Innovation District” envisions Columbus Avenue, which today could be considered the lost part of Frederick Law Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace. Though once designed by Olmsted as a beautiful urban boulevard, the present-day Columbus Avenue is not even a glimpse of that vision. This project reveals ways to inject clusters of finegrained new urbanity along a Columbus Avenue whose profile needs to be redesigned. As such, this restoration and reprogramming will stitch the Olmstedian chain back into the ocean. Sarah Winston’s “Wild Innovation” dares to repaint the topography and highlight the Arcadian qualities of every island in the harbor. She demonstrates the simple strategy of redesigning all the islands using landscape architectural craftsmanship. Every drumlin island has its own silhouette. The ever-changing moods of the ocean, the tides, the sky, and the seasons fill these islands with melancholy and desire. Rather than protecting, this strategy is about repainting: the islands need a painting approach with scattered stones, drystone walls, shrubbery, woodland forest edge, rocky beaches, hill slope meadows, and brackish marshes. Samantha Solano’s “Emerald Territories” encircles three islands and filled them with contemporary and 19th-century illusions of nature. Hui Yuan’s “Bird Islands” suggests that instead of a traditional urban park, the end of the Emerald Necklace could be an accessible ecological marshland where people can walk along a meandering creek from the University of Massachusetts Boston all the way to Thompson Island, Moon Island, Spectacle Island, and Long Island. This wildlife brings people in direct contact with rich bird life. Tim Clark’s “Lost Islands/Found Islands” explores opportunities for Outer Brewster Island to become a dune-protected marshland and creek refuge with urban accommodations reachable by sailboat. This refuge will host an alternative green leisure landscape and allow hunting as a new urban sport.


Wild Innovation

Sarah Winston

Innovation is born from the wild and free: creativity is spontaneous, imagination is instinctive, and new ideas are unplanned. Innovation requires uninhibited exploration and discovery, radical self-reflection, and constant challenging of the known. Innovation is the product of great successes and fierce failures. Innovation occurs in places that foster imagination and challenge assumptions. At once serene and savage, nature is the ultimate provocateur and catalyst of innovation. “Wild Innovation� transforms the Boston Harbor into a landscape of innovation driven by the power of nature to inspire, to shock, and to terrify. The transposition of the center of innovation to the Boston Harbor Islands enables the Innovation City to form a symbiotic relationship with the wild. Here, artists, designers, philosophers, and scientists experience moments of escape, refuge, and freedom. Innovators determine their methods working in solitude or in collaboration. Their world is shaped by the spontaneity of natural processes, forcing a constant reevaluation of perspective and framework. The awe-inspiring power of the wild drives the production of ground-breaking ideas, discoveries, and work with the potential to transform the world.

Perspective view.

Perspective collage

Wild Innovation

52 Map of Boston Harbor with Spectacle Island (left) and Long Island (right). See following spread for detailed plans.


Sarah Winston

Wild Innovation

54 Detailed plan of Clover Meadow on Spectacle Island.


Sarah Winston Top: Detailed plan of Black Wood Valley on Long Island.

Bottom: Detailed plan of the Lowlands on Long Island.

Site sections.


Bird Islands

Hui Yuan

“Bird Islands� envisions new harmonious communities for birds and human beings. The project integrates marshlands with Thompson Island and Spectacle Island, and creates a new tidal park with recreational bike paths and breeding land for birds. Four different types of birdhouses are introduced across the marshland, both protecting and offering isolated breeding conditions for migratory birds who fly across the Atlantic Ocean. The old port is removed and a new port is attached to Deer Island, extending an old channel to cut through South Boston. Thompson Island and Spectacle Island become new landmarks for ecological, educational, and recreational events and experiences to take place throughout the year.

59 Hyper birds + gregarious breeding

Seabirds: gulls and terns

Top: Regional plan incorporating Thompson and Spectacle Islands; red dots note placement of birdhouses.

Land birds + gregarious breeding

Bottom: Birdhouse typologies.

Shore and wading birds













American Coot

Brant Goose

Common Tern


Golden Plover

Canadian Goose


Top: Migratory birds.

Bottom: “Bird Islands” (right) as an extension of the Emerald Necklace (left).















Piping Glover

Roseate Tern

Sea Duck



Sora Rail


Long Island Spectacle Island

Thompson Island

Moon Island


Columbus Avenue Innovation District

Sherry Yang

Columbus Avenue is the missing link that could complete Olmsted’s vision for the Emerald Necklace. With a robust right of way, Columbus Avenue allows the opportunity for future transformation and adaptability to its inhabitant demands. Moreover, this corridor enables the opportunity to combine many uses at once, including storm-water management and different modes of public transit. Ride shares, cyclists, pedestrians, and driverless cars coexist under the canopy of linden trees along Columbus Avenue, which begins at Franklin Park and concludes at the South Boston waterfront. “Columbus Avenue Innovation District” identifies existing voids along this corridor as potential sites for innovation districts. Along this high-tech boulevard, science, technology, and nature coexist as a unified piece of the Emerald Necklace. This proposal studies compact urban schemes that can allocate the footprint of three major innovation districts integrated within the urban grain of the city. It also explores potential forms of density with minimal impact on its surroundings, and engages with the street by interfacing its facade with different forms and relationships, where many opportunities for future courtyards, pocket parks, entry courts, balconies, and other public space amenities could benefit from the presence of Columbus Avenue.

Aerial view of Columbus Avenue as an extension of Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace.

Columbia Point

Columbus Avenue Innovation District


Innovation Campus

Dorchester Corner

Top: Columbus Avenue is anchored by three distinct innovation campuses.

Bottom: Columbus Avenue is transformed from an automotive thoroughfare to a forested promenade.



Sherry Yang


Emerald Territories

Samantha Solano

This project capitalizes on one of the greatest regional assets that the city of Boston has at its front door: the Boston Harbor Islands. Boston was once a city known for its beautiful nautical approach of islands, marshes, and tidal flats. Today, the marshes are filled, the tidal flats are washed away, and the islands are inaccessible and forgotten. “Emerald Territories” uses the end of the Emerald Necklace as a departure point from the mainland to initialize a framework that will support the future growth of Boston. By using simple infrastructures of connectivity, such as boardwalks, bridges, and ferry lines, the islands are weaved into the urban fabric of the city. The islands are grounded with marshes, forests, and tidal flats in order to recapture the lost atmosphere. This proposal embraces the existing identity and strength of the Boston Harbor and accentuates its beauty through human-scale experiences. To finish off its reclaimed contribution to Boston’s skyline, the project is centered on proposing a Frederick Law Olmsted National Memorial at the heart of the islands’ loop.

Overview showing proposed ferry lines, boardwalks, and bridges connecting the Emerald Necklace with the Boston Harbor Islands.


Firstname Lastname


Lost Islands/ Found Islands

Tim Clark

“With a possible exception in Venice, it is believed that the people of no other city in the world make as much or as good use of their harbor, otherwise than commercially, as those of Boston have long been accustomed to do . . . .” —Frederick Law Olmsted, “Reforesting the Boston Harbor Islands: A Proposal” (1887) In 1630, the Boston Harbor Islands comprised an archipelago of 45 distinct islands. Today, only 34 remain. Resulting from centuries of extensive landfilling and natural erosion, the physical loss of these islands, combined with the limitations of those that remain, has resulted in the extinction of their cultural and social value in the minds of Bostonians. “Lost Islands/Found Islands” seeks to reassert the cultural presence of the Boston Harbor Islands by physically expanding their footprint. Located at the mouth of Boston Harbor, “Lost Islands/Found Islands” provides a setting for this reconnection to occur. At the core of these islands are densely settled, walkable villages. Accessed by boat and ferry, they provide a picturesque retreat only 20 minutes from Boston. As one moves outside the villages and into the fields of marshes and hummocks, the experience transforms into a tactile and adventurous engagement with the landscape. Whereas activities on the historic Boston Harbor Islands are often limited, here people are free to engage with the landscape—to hunt, bird-watch, clam, and fish—all within view of the Boston skyline. In doing so, the project seeks to give Bostonians a place to once again make good use of their harbor.

69 Above: The Boston Harbor Islands become a playground.

Following spread: Proposed site plan for Green Island (top) and Pocasset Island (bottom) divided by the Sluice Way Channel.



Aldridge Bridge











l ac


oc k

Ch an



Black Rock

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s s et

Whiting Delta Ledge



Is la



k Poca

Lovells Island














s is

Brewster Mud Flat












Led ers




Green Island



w ice



n ha


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Firstname Lastname


Outter Ca lf Shore

Halftide Rock

Outer Brewster Island Calf Islands

Pope Lake


r M a r sh


dle Brewste









Middle Brewster Island

Great Brewster Island



d Shag Rocks





h rs







Little Brewster Island Brewster Cove



o l R a o Sh


d Le



Extending the Emerald Necklace

Charles Birnbaum

Arthur Shurcliff, most notably in the Emerald Necklace’s Back Bay Fens and the Franklin Park Zoo among his other efforts in Boston parks. Sixty-five years after the founding of the landscape architecture program, “Man and Nature: The Olmsted Exhibition” was mounted at the Harvard GSD, with assistance from the American Society of Landscape Architects. The exhibit, which brought attention to Olmsted’s considerable achievements, including the Emerald Necklace, was overseen by Professor Albert Fein with contributions from a group of graduate students—many of whom went on to celebrated careers of their own, including Julius Fabos, John Furlong, William Tishler, Terry Schnadelbach, and Joe Volpe among others. This was the beginning of not just a renaissance for Olmsted, but a reawakening of his ideas regarding how cities and landscapes are planned and designed. That tradition of students engaged in surveying, assessing, and reexamining Olmsted’s ideals as embodied in the Emerald Necklace—as an integral exercise in leveraging his vision and physical design legacy into Boston Harbor—was the thrust of the two-year “Frontier City” studio effort. Along with a cadre of critics representing multiple design disciplines, Adriaan Geuze and Daniel Vasini challenged the students to “create a new urban landscape”—one that produced a design proposal reimagining the city of Boston as a dynamic, adaptive, resilient, infrastructure-based enterprise—while extending the city and the Necklace to the harbor physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This apt quest can rightfully be viewed in the context of Olmsted’s own lofty goals, which he articulated in a Parks Report in 1881, noting that the Necklace’s “Muddy River looked to the preservation of the present channel with cer-


Ribbons, networks, greenways, interconnected systems of parks and boulevards. The idea of a park system was first unveiled in Brooklyn and Buffalo, New York, roughly 150 years ago by Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. and Calvert Vaux. Their revolutionary idea would reach full fruition when Olmsted Sr., together with Charles Eliot, John Charles Olmsted, and Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., knitted together a system now known as the Emerald Necklace. Designed between 1878 and 1895, the network totaled 1,100-acres and consisted of five distinct parks: the Back Bay Fens, the Muddy River Improvement (later named Olmsted Park and the Riverway), Jamaica Pond, the Arnold Arboretum, and West Roxbury Park (later named Franklin Park). The parks were connected by a network of parkways that resulted in a dynamic and integrated system of water, meadows, and woodlands that measured more than five miles in length. By the turn of the century, Harvard began to form its own academic connection with the Emerald Necklace. Beginning in 1899, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., assisted by Arthur Shurcliff, founded the country’s first four-year landscape architecture program, where they would both serve as instructors. Today one can look back in the Visual Collections housed in Frances Loeb Library to see the actual teaching aids (photographs mounted on heavy card stock that predate lantern slides) that were used during lectures. These images captured the design intent of the Necklace in its infancy and served as a resource for students and researchers to this day. After the death of the elder Olmsted in 1903, the Olmsted brothers continued to consult on the Necklace until the 1920s. This period was followed by improvements undertaken by

74 tain modifications and improvements adapted to make it permanently attractive and wholesome, and an element of constantly increasing advantage to the neighborhood” is echoed and amplified in the student’s ambitions for a civic design that is multifunctional, aesthetically pleasing, and often thoroughly original.¹ Dr. Cynthia Zaitzevsky, in her book Frederick Law Olmsted and the Boston Park System (1982), noted: “Olmsted fully appreciated the significance of the metropolitan (park) system as the logical continuation of the municipal park system. Most importantly, he considered it a key work and a landmark from which a new era of landscape architecture would date.”² The student work that follows takes this as a powerful and inspiring point of departure, each crafting rich and varied scenographic experiences that offer unique insights and per-

spectives about the purview of the landscape architect and the role they can and should play in cities like Boston for years to come.


2 1894 plan for the Emerald Necklace Park System in Boston.

Frederick Law Olmsted, “Seventh Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners of the Department of Parks for the City of Boston for the Year 1881,” City Document No. 16 (1882), 24–28. Republished as S. B. Sutton, “Boston: Parks and Parkways—A Green Ribbon,” in Civilizing American Cities: A Selection of Frederick Law Olmsted’s Writings on City Landscapes (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1971), 223. Cynthia Zaitzevsky, Frederick Law Olmsted and the Boston Park System (Cambridge, MA, and London: Belknap Press, 1982).



Audacious Stewardship

Brian AvilĂŠs

and creating large new islands is probably counter to a raft of laws intended to protect the environment. But these approaches, when carefully developed, should be considered when part of a larger-scale, multi-sector transformation that sustains the surrounding region. This question is particularly relevant to the Boston Harbor National Recreation Area, which is a partnership of a dozen state and local organizations who could find traditional conservation of their islands untenable given other needs. The studio recognizes the potential for these new narratives to be layered onto the rich and sometimes painful histories of the islands.


The “Frontier City” studios extend the rich legacy of Harvard’s involvement in National Parks. As a Harvard GSD student in 1988, I treasure the memory of Carl Steinitz’s “Alternative Futures” studios, which investigated pressing issues at Mount Desert and Campobello Islands. In similar fashion, the “Frontier City” studios presented students with a very real and existential challenge for Boston and its network of harbor islands which have recently aligned as a national park. This studio comes at a time when the National Park Service is finding its way as stewards of lands whose long-term management, while based on fundamental ecological knowledge, must engage their equally dynamic social and cultural contexts in order to be relevant and effective. This is a test for the Park Service as a whole, not just for parks set in America’s major cities. I was encouraged to see the studio wrestling with issues of social justice and equity in urban Boston, as much as with fluvial processes in complex coastal systems. As a park manager, it was thrilling to see a new generation confronted with the challenges of managing special places set aside for their unique values, even more so that they were asked to dramatically reshape these parks and waterways to better serve the community. The student responses showed incredible variety and ingenuity. I was drawn to proposals that were compositional: reconfiguring topography, implementing vegetative systems, and introducing infrastructure to better support people’s enjoyment of the park. Several were realistic and feasible. Perhaps the greater value lies in the proposals that directly confronted established Park Service practices—converting park islands into neighborhoods is audacious (and against the law that established the park);

Building with Nature

80 East Boston Airport (later renamed Logan International Airport). Dredge pictured to the left, sometime between 1917 and 1934.


With the tremendous leadership of Dr. Alan Blumberg, director of the Davidson Laboratory at the Stevens Institute of Technology, the studio explored building with nature using advanced monitoring technologies to manipulate or interfere with the systems of erosion, sedimentation, flooding, and navigation channels. Blumberg was able to take manipulations of the underwater contour lines completed by the students and bring them back to his lab to forecast erosion, sedimentation, and flooding changes. By having access to his lab, students were able to experience and explore the principle of building with nature. They could sculpt and intervene with a three-dimensional outcome of the future to show island morphology and predict the changes in currents, the seabed, and storm surge. This advanced research brought amazing new options never before considered. Andrew Madl’s “Shifting Grids” researches the use of interlocking concrete wave breakers to accelerate sedimentation. He successfully modeled the research from laboratory computers that predicted the option of accelerated sedimentation of Thompson Island and Moon Island. The outcome is a sea-born city on a beautiful meandering creek. He tested this city to be a low-rise and high-density urban area—the ultimate residence for generations of the Innovation City. Stephen Sun’s “The Anti-Fragile Harbor” proves that almost every drumlin island could grow through natural sedimentation, organized by precise wave breakers. In his vision, these wave breakers could inhabit infrastructure and program, as well as become a new extension of the Emerald Necklace. Xin Zhao’s “Living Labs” frames Spectacle Island and Long Island to the sedimentation of the bay in between. She proposes a design for a future international Boston exposition. How can the complex current pattern literally become the magnetic field for structuring all types of new urban grain? This was tested in detail for Spectacle Island and brought amazing diverse urbanity.


Shifting Grids

Andrew Madl

“Shifting Grids� seeks to navigate and understand the current projection of urbanism by landscape prescribing agency through aligning to operational systems that are provoked through natural forces and fluxes. Boston Harbor and its islands provide a complex site that offers ample protagonists to fuel design research and speculation. The combination of tidal fluctuation, water currents, elevation, island position, and dredge operations provides the grounds for a choreography of natural and artificial systems to engage, interact, and contradict one another. These systems allow for a design stance in which they are leveraged and exploited as means for deriving the performance and form of new urbanism. The resultant work presents a new urban development to be built within the island network of Boston Harbor. The project programs the urban surface through site analysis, modeling, and algorithmic design. The city is placed at the highest elevation within the harbor that is also between two islands; this siting provides a natural barrier from storm events and intense tidal conditions. Factoring in the quantity of dredge material from the New England District Five Year Plan, along with computational models and metrics, this framework for a new urbanism utilizes breakwater typologies to control natural flow patterns, collecting sediment that can be utilized as solid ground, mimicking natural intertidal landform patterns of Boston Harbor.

Site plan.

Z-typology progression

Y-typology progression

T-typology progression

Breakwater prototypes and their projected sediment accumulation.


Andrew Madl Accumulation of tidal sediment influenced by breakwaters between Thompson Island (left) and Moon Island (right).


The Anti-Fragile Harbor

Stephen Sun

“A park was never an ornamental addition to a city but an integral part of its fabric as a restorative force for future growth on several levels: geographic, economic, social, and cultural.�1 —Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. This project evolved out of the extension of the Emerald Necklace from the perspectives of the architectural relationship of form and ground, actuary-based risk analysis, real estate development, and the oceanographic science of dredging. The primary design assumption is that the zones that will succumb to rising sea levels have the most environmental and insurance risk. Grasshopper was used to develop an algorithm that bridged actuary-based risk assessment of these places with real estate proformas hypothesizing that the innovation district is a sacrificial set of spaces that become the temporal threshold between water and ground. This innovation band/threshold becomes the extension of the Emerald Necklace that grows into the bay, connecting with the rest of the islands. The formation of landmass involves a superfund remediative clean-up process of the harbor that has been extensively polluted over the last 400 years. Utilizing natural ebb-and-flow patterns along with the existing drainage patterns of the harbor, the master plan phases out clean-up regions while providing the necessary landmass for the extension of the Emerald Necklace. 1

Cynthia Zaitzevsky, Frederick Law Olmsted and the Boston Park System (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1975), 51.

Site plan showing current flood risks and proposed development.

Top: Clean soil is collected through tidal ebb-and-flow cycles.

Bottom: “The Anti-Fragile Harbor” as an extension of the Emerald Necklace.


Stephen Sun Top: Site plan.

Bottom: Section.


Living Labs

Xin Zhao

Expos play a very important role in sharing and communicating technological knowledge. The World Expo is the largest international exhibition to showcase industrial progress and visions of the future. Today, such expos become critical events for educating people about the fast-changing world. Boston, a global center for technology and science, is home to over 100 colleges and universities. Its new dynamic start-up culture, however, needs its own campus facility to showcase its advances and attract further investment. “Living Labs” introduces the Boston Technology Expo and acts as a venue for sharing and developing technology. It is built by connecting Spectacle Island and Long Island through land filling and the proposed landscape contains a marina, park systems, and marshland. In the summertime, the expo takes place in a variety of spaces, including indoor and outdoor exhibition areas, a conference area, an innovation summer school, a public theme park, and adaptive residential districts. During the remainder of the year, exhibition areas are converted to laboratories used for daily study and research. The outdoor exhibition areas meanwhile become park space for the scholars and staff working in the living labs. By alternating the use of the space, the Boston Technology Expo and living labs seamlessly integrate technology sharing and development to enhance Boston as a center of innovation. 

91 Site plan of proposed island, joining Long Island on the right with Spectacle Island on the left.

1. Existing islands

1. Urban context

2. Land fill

1. Urban context 2. Marina 3. Floating land 4. Park systems

3. Vegetative growth protected from storm surge

Land fill phasing.

1. Urban context 2. Marina 3. Floating land 4. Park systems 5. Marshland

Development phasing.


Xin Zhao Plans of the different districts (clockwise from top-left): Twin Hills Park, Innovation Campus, Park Boulevard outdoor exhibition space, waterfront district, shared labs and incubation district, shared living spaces.


The Urban Ocean and its Connection to Boston

Alan Blumberg

for the region and is at once an avenue of trade and transportation, a haven for sport and recreation, and potentially a rich fishing ground. The uniqueness of this urban ocean is felt by its temporal and spatial variations, ranging from seasonal to millennial, often with catastrophic events mixed in. The urban ocean is the place where the ocean, land, and people all come together. Each of these component “systems” has a profound effect on the others. The ever-present changes in water level create complex currents, often in the context of an estuary environment, that influence the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of the region, and thereby define its capability and capacity to support human life.¹ Boston Harbor, the urban ocean just off the shore of Boston, is a shallow, tidally dominated embayment with a surface area of 125 square kilometers and an average depth of five meters. The harbor is filled with a considerable number of islands, 34 of which dot the harbor landscape. The tides are primarily semi-diurnal (repeating every 12.42 hours) with a range of 2.45 meters almost everywhere in the harbor. The velocities, however, exhibit strong spatial variability due to complex bathymetry and coastline. The water that enters and leaves the harbor is exchanged through two 15-meter-deep passages that connect Boston Harbor to Massachusetts Bay. This nearshore environment has freshwater from land runoff flowing into the saltier offshore waters leading to freshwater plumes and recirculation. This urban ocean embodies the physics, chemistry, and biology of the waters and includes how humans have significantly influenced the behavior of each of these systems through land degradation, river management, a major sewage outfall, and other anthropogenic activities.


Coastal cities are home to more than 50 percent of the global population and more than 80 percent of the American population, and they continue to grow. Of the world’s megacities (defined as having a population of at least 10 million) more than 75 percent are situated on the coast. Over 400 million people inhabit the 136 port cities around the world. In the United States, the number of homes at risk from hurricane damage is almost 4.6 million. In Boston, it is estimated that almost 13,000 homes could be affected with more than $38 billion at risk (CoreLogic, 2016). As the population of Boston grows, it will be mostly concentrated in the coastal zones; therefore, societal risks are increasingly defined by urban, coastal issues. Extreme weather events along the urban coasts of the world have dramatically increased over the last decade. Hurricane Sandy was a painful reminder that coastal storms are among the world’s costliest and deadliest disasters, capable of causing tens-to-hundreds of billions of dollars in damages and destroying entire neighborhoods and critical infrastructure. Sea level rise has given a boost to high tides, which are now regularly overtopping streets, floorboards, and other low-lying areas that had long existed in relatively dehydrated harmony with nearby waterfronts. The trend is projected to worsen sharply in the coming years. Nowhere has our changing climate appeared more relevant than in the South Boston waterfront, which has a growing working and residential population, but is also a becoming a destination for others to visit and enjoy. Boston Harbor has always played an important role in the history of New England. Over 350 years ago, early settlers were drawn to the region largely because of its fine natural port. Today, harbor commerce generates $8 billion in annual revenue

the water level pathways. If water currents are changed, the distribution of fine and coarse sediments are changed, which in turn changes the locations where bottom-dwelling species live. The construction of the dunes will require unprecedented billions of cubic meters of sand, clay, and rock. The new dunes will have the attributes of a beach, a shore face, and a core structure. The intent will be for the dunes to not just resemble their natural equivalent but also operate as nearly equal analogs. Some of the sand used in the dunes’ formation will be transported away under the natural processes of the coastal ocean possibly forming stable beaches in the surrounding area. We could also imagine these dunes while decreasing the height of storm surge, enabling lower, softer, and less disruptive landside storm protections, a tremendous benefit to those who live on the present shoreline. Walls and levees being proposed for Boston could potentially be reduced by as much as half.



Water level is dictated by two aspects: the tide, which is due to the moon and the sun, is highly repetitive; while the other, meteorological effects of the wind and pressure, is more difficult to predict because atmosphere is hard to forecast. This is tested using sECOM as the successor model to the Princeton Ocean Model (POM). The model is a finite-difference free-surface estuarine and coastal ocean circulation model coupled to a surface wave model. The modules solve the three-dimensional primitive fluid equations (representing conservation of mass and momentum, and heat and salt transfer) subject to the hydrostatic and Boussinesq approximations, and the surface wave momentum conservation equation. sECOM simulations have been extensively validated in dozens of applications.

The Urban Ocean and its Connection to Boston


The coastal ocean and weather patterns drive processes and events that range from highly supportive of human populations (e.g., fishing, marine transportation, and tourism) to highly threatening (e.g., storm surges and flooding). The dredging of shipping channels intended to support safe navigation and economic prosperity has often led to the alteration of tidal- and wind-driven dynamics and transport processes, with significant consequences to ecosystems both inland and along the coast. The construction of seawalls to protect life and property often causes beach erosion and long-term shoreline retreat. These are only a few of the myriad ways in which the symbiotic relationship between humans and the coastal ocean has produced significant impacts, many of which were not expected and some of which are still poorly understood. The balancing act that exists between ocean-as-sustainer and ocean-as-threat has produced a very wide range of coastal ocean “management” strategies that have themselves often resulted in significant short- and longterm changes to the balance. A new concept to be considered has to do with the all the islands that dot the harbor. Two keys question were posed in the “Frontier City” studio: using the existing islands, could one construct a set of offshore barrier dunes in the Boston Harbor that would lower storm surges by blocking and reflecting an incoming surge and therefore save lives, reduce damage, and safeguard the environment? If so, could the new shoreline be designed with natural processes in mind? To test the hypothesis that a set of such dunes can exist, a series of hydrodynamic simulations based on the laws of fluid physics and the existing bathymetric configuration of Boston’s offshore waters were conducted to look at new landscapes.2 The work coalesced around sketches exploring various configurations of a series of offshore dunes. The sketches were based on potential human benefits that would ultimately be measured against the downside risk of damaging the marine ecosystem. Initial hydrodynamic modeling demonstrated that there was a significant possibility for a set of offshore dunes that would save lives and protect property in times of climate change and sea level rise. The system of dunes that achieves its objectives must minimize negative overlap with living marine resources and existing conflicts like the Massachusetts Bay outfall and planned uses of the coastal waters. The dunes will firstly change the water currents by redistributing


Alan Blumberg Above: sECOM visualizations testing student barrier island configurations. Courtesy of Philip M. Orton and Alan Blumberg, Stevens Institute of Technology.

Connecting the Archipelago

100 Field trip to Thompson Island.


The Boston Harbor Islands suffer from extreme isolation and neglect. A wise first step would be to make the islands accessible in various ways. Several opportunities were shown for the introduction of low-tech pedestrian bridges, allowing people to go to the islands for a picnic, education, and contemplation. Fani Papadopoulou, in “resource.full,” takes the isolated Greek Islands as an example for a high-frequency ferry system that can activate islands into a vital, economically vibrant, and flourishing archipelago. A system of simple docks and ferry landings will bring an advanced network of connections to all kinds of neighborhoods of Boston. She uses Long Island as a showcase for the creation of an island-crossing channel that allows for a high-speed vaporetto ferry system where boats quickly stop and continue on to the next island. Anita Helfrich’s “A City of Bridges” radically tests a connection of South Boston to Thompson Island using many bridges. Ambrose Luk’s “Synergy Harbor” proposes to create and connect isolated communities to harbor creativity and innovation.



Fani Papadopoulou

The Boston Harbor Islands are an astonishing resource. However, despite their natural resistance to flooding, their existing infrastructure, and their diverse landscapes and ecosystems, they remain underutilized. Due to the lack of a proper transportation and infrastructure to connect the islands to the mainland, the islands are only employed as a tourist attraction. According to their current state of infrastructure, position, and natural resources, the harbor islands are activated through reprogramming. Long Island becomes the main node on the sea, while a strong pole also forms on Thompson Island with housing, retail, and office space. Spectacle Island becomes a tourist attraction and celebrates its artificial nature by forming the “Twin Peaks� of Boston, providing astonishing views to the rest of the archipelago. Lovells Island and Gallops Island become parks with hiking paths and recreational activities, while Georges Island enjoys tourist importance thanks to the relics of a fortress. Currently underutilized, Columbia Point, the current site of University of Massachusetts Boston, is enhanced with a new MBTA station and housing and educational facilities, encouraging corporations to relocate and establish offices near the university. This regenerated area becomes a radiant anchor node for accessing the islands. A ferry network with main terminals on Columbia Point, Long Island, and Thomson Island runs every 30 minutes. This new network reconnects Boston to its islands.

Site plan of Long Island.



Spectacle Island

Thompson Island

Moon Island

Master plan of new connected archipelago, showing transit times between islands.

Deer Island

Fani Papadopoulou


Lovells Island

Gallops Island

Georges Island

Long Island Rainsford Island

Peddocks Island

Hangman Island


City of Bridges

Anita Helfrich

Boston is a city of landfill, which puts it at severe risk of flooding as a result of global warming. While this creates challenges for the city’s growth and development, it also provides an opportunity to reshape the city in a more resilient way. This project aims to confront the looming threat of rising sea levels by embracing the natural resource at the center of it: water. The Boston Harbor Islands are a short ferry ride from Downtown Boston, and built on higher ground can potentially be developed into new, resilient local communities. However, these islands are currently in a preserved state and are disconnected from the city due to limited ferry service. The project proposes to create new islands, each connected by a series of bridges, that connect the Boston Harbor Islands with Downtown Boston. The resulting “City of Bridges” is accessible not only by ferry but also by foot and bicycle. The plethora of canals and waterways maximizes the surface area of the waterfront, giving each island its own character while maintaining a human-scale connection between them. In order to better connect these new islands to Boston’s historic center, this project converts an infrastructure-heavy area into a new waterway that can act as a direct ferry route between these areas.

Site plan, detail.

City of Bridges

108 Catalog of proposed bridges.


Anita Helfrich Flood-prone land is left flooded in favor of development elsewhere.


Synergy Harbor

Ambrose Luk

Extending from the University of Massachusetts Boston to the abandoned Long Island health campus, a series of innovation hubs are interconnected to the city through a multi-modal transit network over land, bridges, and water. Their distance and isolation from the established urban environment provides opportunities for free-form experimentation. Following a low-rise, high-density development model, pedestrian movements and interactions are prioritized as conduit for creative exchanges. Each community would develop its own identity and culture derived from its unique urban landscapes: a mixture of street-block typologies provide canvas for inventive occupation, while integration with blue-green spaces serve to regenerate the creative minds. Along the channel between Moon Island and Long Island, two diametrically developed environments become the nexus of innovation hubs: drumlin topography anchors Moon Island, where a community is built resilient to rising sea levels and characterized by found artifacts, while Long Island’s marshland defines a water community that fosters constant adaptations and alternative ingenuity. The confluence of these urban environments forms an innovation synergy to a new frontier for Boston.

Site plan of proposed development at Columbia Point, Moon Island, and Long Island.


Synergy Harbor


Clusters and views

New development as an extension of different systems in the Boston area.


Ambrose Luk Top: Aerial view of proposal for Long Island.

Bottom: Maquette of Long Island.

Adaptive Reuse

116 Fort Point Channel and Boston’s South End, 1930.


Several projects researched the potential for reopening and reinventing Fort Point Channel. Present-day Downtown Boston was founded on land surrounded by marshes. For a long time, the Boston waterfront, with its wharfs, industries, and vessels, had two links to the ocean—one through the main navigation channel through the Boston Inner Harbor, and the other through the southwest-oriented Fort Point Channel up to the Old Harbor. This channel has previously been claimed for infrastructure and highway right-of-way. It is logical and promising to find strategies that aim to reintroduce this second southwestern link from today’s wharf district toward the University of Massachusetts Boston peninsula. It would immediately improve Boston’s sea-born identity, and could cultivate a boater culture since people can avoid the commercial navigation channel used by cargo ships and container ships. Ruichao Li’s “Living with Water” reintroduces the old channel so its mouth is moved precisely between mainland Savin Hill Beach and University of Massachusetts Boston. This new mouth of the channel transforms into a Chicago-style innovation sub-center for Boston. This high-rise and high-density neighborhood is in direct dialogue with the mouth of the channel, and in dialogue with the larger bay ecosystem. A similar approach has been tested by Chen Lu’s “SeaBiosis,” in which the mouth of the channel is positioned between Thompson Island and Moon Island. Jenny Ni Zhan’s “2100: Island City” speculates largescale urbanization and colonization projects on the re-creation of this old waterway.


Living with Water

Ruichao Li

Whereas the Emerald Necklace is a legacy from Boston’s past, the Innovation City is its future. However, today’s Boston is confronted with challenges caused by rising sea levels, extreme climate conditions, and reduced biodiversity. If the sea levels continue to rise at their current rate, most of Downtown Boston will be flooded in 100 years. A newly created channel, starting in Downtown Boston and extending all the way to Columbia Point, offers a rich riverside condition. Dense urban projects will be developed along the channel as a new innovation district that works with University of Massachusetts Boston. The Emerald Necklace will also be extended, as rain gardens and urban groves along Columbia Road help storm water management and promote microclimates. The underutilized Joe Moakley Park will be renovated and berms will help protect the waterfront, while a levee will act as a bicycle lane connecting Columbia Point with Pleasure Bay. A cable car system will operate along the shore, presenting opportunities for education and pleasure. Along the channel, the building strategies differ according to their flood risk. Artwork lines the riverfront park while skywalks connect new towers. A transportation terminal connects the subway and railway with ferries to other islands.

Site plan.



Chen Lu

“SeaBiosis” establishes a new dialogue between human living environments and the ocean ecosystem. Boston is threatened by sea level rise, storm surge, land subsidence, and the decline of the marine ecosystem. Under increasing pressure for housing, jobs, and land, the city plans to reclaim more land from the sea. City planning has long separated people from the sea. In the current condition, people access Boston through existing navigation channels, bypassing the harbor islands. “SeaBiosis” reestablishes and strengthens these relationships between people, the sea, and their living environments. A new navigation channel guides boats and ships through the harbor islands, allowing South Boston to become a new gateway for the city. A second canal connects to the new gateway in South Boston, reorienting the city toward the south and linking to the inner harbor. A new Innovation City is built where the sea meets the land, acting as a new gateway for the city. Surrounded by marine resources, the new city takes the form of a grid on landfill between Moon Island and Thompson Island, while the islands themselves are preserved as two natural wings. Surrounded by marine resources and resembling a delta, this new Innovation City becomes very adaptive to climate change and establishes an innovative relationship between city and nature.

Site plan, detail.


122 Sketch iterations of Columbia Point redevelopment.


Chen Lu Moves toward “SeaBiosis� 1. 2. 3.

Build a barrier or wave breaker between the outer harbor and inner harbor; this intervention reduces storm surge by 10 centimeters in the inner harbor area. Build a second barrier to separate the inner harbor from the main navigation channel, preventing large cargo ships from entering. Introduce a new navigation channel to guide boats and ships through the harbor islands, allowing South Boston to become a new gateway for the city.

Site plan.

4. 5. 6.

Build a canal to divide the city into two parts and connect to the new gateway in South Boston. Complete the Emerald Necklace as a continuous green system and establish the connection with marine ecosystem. Convert the Neponset River corridor into a green corridor for stronger communication between the urban green system and the sea, thus allowing Boston to become more like a delta to adapt to climate change.


2100: Island City

Jenny Ni Zhan

At an average pace of 25 acres per year, Boston Bay grew through landfill over the last 400 years. The speed of land expansion was in parallel with the speed of population growth in the Greater Boston area. Now faced with future increases in population and commerce activities, rather than resorting to endless urban sprawl inland, we wonder if the city of Boston would find new opportunities in its rich harbor, taking advantage of the extensive Olmsted legacy and a booming tech community. The project envisions an exciting “Island City” in Boston Bay, linking and extending the Emerald Necklace toward the harbor islands. This city builds upon an adaptive and proactive infrastructure, complete with reimagined urban streetscapes that grow around the existing islands. Interfacing with the edges of Boston Harbor, the new districts on the water each defined by public spaces of various forms and function will accommodate future growth, engage with environmental sensitivity and resilience, and stimulate an urban renaissance in the city of Boston. “Island City” will offer a new frontier. While preserving the existing islands as green lungs of the new city, the proposal also provides guidelines for architectural characteristics, urban grids, block typologies, and street profiles for the land infill that would develop over time along tidal patterns.

Aerial view of “Island City” showing existing islands preserved as parklands and infill areas as urban development.


Lovells Spectacle








2100: Island City


Above: Progression of land-building over time.

Following page: Aerial view of future development.


Jenny Ni Zhan

Site plan.


The Infrastructure of Innovation is Community

Darrick Borowski

trast to the isolated suburban office parks of the 1980s, today’s innovation hubs are lively, buzzing, holistic live/work/learn/play communities. The projects of the Harvard GSD’s “Frontier City” studio propose an unapologetically visionary approach to creating these kinds of innovation districts in the neighborhoods of South and East Boston, and in the Boston Harbor Islands. While diverse in their solutions, a focus on two big issues thread through a majority of the projects: the scarcity of developable urban land, and the threat of climate change. Whether forming new islands as storm-surge barriers, reclaiming wetlands, or moving an airport, the “Frontier City” studio projects built their new neighborhoods atop ambitious infrastructure projects that tackle today’s most pressing problems and shape cities to speak to the values of workforce they hope to attract. So how do we evaluate these proposals in terms of their viability as innovation districts? How do we gauge whether they would in fact foster innovation? In their nine-month study, “The Rise of Innovation Districts: A New Geography of Innovation in America,” the Brookings Institution identified some common characteristics that distinguished successful innovation districts from less successful ones. They found thriving districts had a critical mass of spaces and people dedicated to research and innovation-related work. These districts leveraged that competitive advantage to launch more businesses and products, linking research to entrepreneurship. Importantly, districts that continue to attract and keep new firms and people have quality of place, which Project for Public Spaces defines as “environments in which people have invested meaning over time . . . a unique cultural and social identity that is defined by the way it is used and the people who use it.” Successful districts


Twenty years ago, there was talk of the Internet killing cities. Telecommuting would replace territory, allowing the workforce to spread across the countryside. When workers are not bound by where their jobs are, some thought cities would decline. Of course, looking at the social reorganization of our geography today, we find cities as vibrant as ever. And while many of us do live more mobile lives—with the workplace being wherever the Wi-Fi is, and for the most part we’ve witnessed the demise of the cubicle—cities obviously continue to thrive. With the rise of co-working spaces, and as companies such as IBM and Yahoo pull people back into the office, it seems foolish today to think that digital connections would ever fully replace physical ones. The rising workforce plays a part in driving today’s urban economies, and the corresponding geographical reorganization is more and more a reflection of their values. This is important not only for the new freelance/entrepreneur economy, but also for traditional enterprise businesses looking to attract the highest talent. Increasingly, the places people live and work are being driven first and foremost by lifestyle choices. If we look closely at the cities, and more specifically the neighborhoods, that are thriving today, we can extract some learnings about those values, how they are reified in urban morphology, and how to best design for them. Much of this is familiar to us. In emerging neighborhoods, from Brooklyn’s Tech Triangle to Seattle’s South Lake Union, we find people with laptops having meetings in cafes during the day and spilling out of bars at night. We find not only office space, but accommodation for active lifestyles (bike paths, sports fields), a live music scene, and sidewalks full of people shopping at small independent retailers. In con-

Space: Provide the right mix of public, semi-public, and private space. Space is the medium for community to “happen.” We need to set aside the right mix of public and semi-public spaces, and design them for the way people use them today. Public spaces such as parks, green spaces and plazas, sidewalk cafes, and other outdoor spaces create opportunities for unexpected encounters. They should be equipped for both recreational activity (for all ages) as well as space to work. Tables, seating, shaded/covered areas, Wi-Fi, charging stations, art, and performance spaces all encourage these experiences. Semi-public spaces such as bars, restaurants, shops, event spaces, and hotel lobbies are necessary venues for socializing. Flexible building stock, with street-level porosity, helps keep a neighborhood vibrant, allowing restaurants and shops to move in and change over time. Private space, in the form of both housing and work space, located in the same neighborhood, is critical to appealing to the values of a modern workforce. Mixed-use districts address sustainability, support community-building, and improve quality of life by minimizing commutes and creating 24-hour communities. Programming: Activate space with programming and culture. Spaces need activation. It seems like a catch-22, but people are drawn to people. Events, whether arts and cultural, professional, or recreational, draw residents together to meet their neighbors. Academic and research institutions can serve as anchors for new innovation districts by attracting and launching entrepreneurs seeking public/private research and development partnerships. Cultural institutions can contribute to

place-making by serving as attractors, bringing in people from the wider metropolitan area. Co-working spaces and incubators, Business Improvement Districts, and other community-based organizations serve as the connective glue in newly developing innovation ecosystems by programming a regular schedule of meet-ups, talks, networking events, and street festivals. Density: Plan for density and walkability. Sidewalks are key to vibrant districts, but they only see their full potential when activated with a critical mass of destinations—shops, cafes, restaurants, places—where people want to go. Small outdoor spaces, along frequently traveled paths and near where people work and live, encourage daily use and allow people to feel their work and lives are more integrated. Mid-rise residential and work space buildings provide a critical mass of residents and office workers, but at a scale more conducive to building social bonds than larger-scale, highrise central business districts. Connections: Create local and global connections. No neighborhood or innovation district is self-contained; they all rely on connections to both the greater metropolitan area via public transportation and bike lanes, and to global networks beyond via airports and rail lines. Inhabitants of these districts, as well as collaborators, investors, clients, and customers need easy access to and from. Increasingly, knowledge-based companies are choosing to locate where these trips can be made without private automobiles. Affordability: Fight to maintain affordability. Finally, one of the most difficult challenges facing planners looking to encourage innovation in changing neighborhoods today, is how to keep spaces—for living, working, and playing—affordable. First and foremost, this requires working with policy makers and developers to ensure quality affordable and middle-income housing in a variety of scales and typologies located on or near public transportation lines. But enabling entrepreneurship also means affordable storefronts for small businesses, such as cafes, shops, restaurants, and bars, and affordable offices and

The Infrastructure of Innovation is Community


are diverse and inclusive, providing opportunity to local residents instead of displacing them. And finally, culture and collaboration are at the heart of successful districts, and arguably emerge once the other characteristics are in place. As architects and planners working to create the conditions for these kinds of successful innovation districts to emerge, our efforts should be concentrated on putting in place the infrastructure to support the growth of a strong, diverse, collective community. The following are proposed strategies for leveraging five key planning tools—Space, Programming, Density, Connections, and Affordability—to set the stage for an emergent innovation ecosystem.

The projects of the “Frontier City” studio leveraged many of these strategies in their work. The proposals were dense, urban, and walkable, incorporating green space and opportunities for public programming. Connections to both the city’s transit system and the airport were considered. Most of the projects were mixed-use developments, with housing playing an integral part. Lisa Hollywood’s “Common Islands,” which relocates Logan Airport to create space for a new neighborhood in East Boston, aims to provide half of Boston’s projected housing needs for 2050. Her plan would foster diversity via job opportunities by incorporating not only office space, but a Smart Manufacturing Zone at the heart of the district. A mix of housing types that could be targeted at a range of incomes also contributes to the inclusive nature of her scheme. Tim Clark’s “Lost Islands/Found Islands” brings a middle-class retreat and outdoor recreation within a short ferry ride of Downtown Boston. This kind of move makes the city more competitive by raising the bar for quality of life and doing so in an accessible way. The next steps in seeing to the success of any of these plans would be to develop the public and private partnerships necessary to follow through on the goals set out. Companies like WeWork are a key component in the development of innovation ecosystems by providing the work space and programming to build community among entrepreneurs and innovators. Innovation is born out of complex ecosystems—a primordial soup of ideas, talent, opportunities, and investment—and new ideas can come from unexpected places. As Richard Florida proposes in his CityLab feature in The Atlantic: “Each and every human being is creative. . . . We can only grow, develop, and prosper by harnessing the full creativity of each of us.” As designers and planners, we often rely on technology and traditional “hard infrastructure” to spur growth. An examination of the complex phenomena of creativity and innovation suggests

we give equal attention to those strategies that foster opportunity and community.


Darrick Borowski

work space for startups, entrepreneurs, nonprofits, craftspeople, and makers. Soaring real estate prices may encourage development, but they can also push out small-business owners, tinkerers, and artisans as well as working-class residents. High rents discourage risk-taking and bootstrapping, both necessary ingredients in an innovation-led economy. This is the chief obstacle to achieving the kinds of diverse, holistic live/work/learn/ play communities that foster creativity.


Project Overview

Top (left): Mann Peeraphol Sangthongjai, “Terminal Island”; (right): Lisa Hollywood, “Common Islands.”

Middle (left): Angela Xiao, “iCity”; (right): Tim Clark, “Lost Islands/ Found Islands.”

Bottom (left): Ruichao Li, “Living with Water”; (right): Chen Lu, “SeaBiosis.”

135 Top (left): Jenny Ni Zhan, “2100: Island City”; (right): Mengqing Chen, “Drumlin City.”

Middle (left): Sarah Winston, “Wild Innovation”; (right): Andrew Madl, “Shifting Grids.”

Bottom (left): Stephen Sun, “The Anti-Fragile Harbor”; (right): Xin Zhao, “Living Labs.”

136 Top (left): Hui Yuan, “Bird Islands”; (right): Samantha Solano, “Emerald Territories.”

Middle (left): Sherry Yang, “Columbus Avenue Innovation District”; (right): Bennett Gale, “Frontier Harbor.”

Bottom (left): Fani Papadopoulou, “resource.full”; (right): Anita Helfrich, “City of Bridges.”

137 Top (left): Jeremy Hartley, “NWA”; (right): Xiaoyin Kuang, “Marshton.”

Middle (left): Maria Gloria Robalino, “Purple Islands”; (right): Ambrose Luk, “Synergy Harbor.”

Bottom (left): Keith Scott, “Interface District”; (right): Mailys Meyer, “Bike City.”



Brian Avilés Brian Avilés is the chief of planning for the National Park Service (NPS), Golden Gate National Recreation Area, one of the parks established under the rubric of “bringing parks to the people where the people are.” The park spans over 80,000 acres around San Francisco, encompassing iconic sites like Muir Woods National Monument, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz Island. His team helps accomplish the NPS mission to preserve resources for future generations (which is a challenge, given the scores of endangered species and historic features in the park) while bringing national park experiences to a large and diverse urban population. Avilés’s educational background includes degrees in landscape architecture from the University of Arizona and Harvard University. He is a licensed landscape architect who has practiced in several multidisciplinary firms, and previously taught for a decade at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Avilés joined the NPS in 1999. Anita Berrizbeitia Anita Berrizbeitia is professor of landscape architecture and chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture at the Harvard GSD. Her research focuses on design theories of modern and contemporary landscape architecture, the productive aspects of landscapes, and Latin American cities and landscapes. She was awarded the 2005–2006 Prince Charitable Trusts Rome Prize Fellowship in Landscape Architecture. A native of Caracas, Venezuela, she studied architecture at the Universidad Simon Bolivar before receiving a BA from Wellesley College and an MLA from the Harvard GSD. She has taught design theory and studio, most recently at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design, where she was associate chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture. Her studios investigate innovative approaches to the conceptualization of public space, especially on sites where urbanism, globalization, and local cultural conditions intersect. She also leads seminars that focus on significant transformations in landscape

discourse over the last three decades. From 1987 to 1993, she practiced with Child Associates, Inc., in Boston, where she collaborated on many award-winning projects. Charles Birnbaum Charles Birnbaum is president and CEO of the Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF). Before creating TCLF, he spent 15 years as coordinator of the National Park Service Historic Landscape Initiative and a decade in private practice in New York City focused on landscape preservation and urban design. He has authored and edited numerous publications, and was a Loeb Fellow at the Harvard GSD and a Rome Prize recipient. He is a fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and was awarded the ASLA’s LaGasse Medal in 2008, the President’s Medal in 2009, and the ASLA Medal in 2017. He is a visiting professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, and a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post. Alan Blumberg Alan Blumberg is the George Meade Bond Professor of Ocean Engineering and director of the Davidson Laboratory at Stevens Institute of Technology. He is an urban oceanographer whose focus is on the interaction of water and the urban environment, and the interaction between the urban environment and the surrounding water. His long-term research interests address implications of sea level rise and global warming on the evolution of urban-environment interactions to create sustainable and resilient 21st-century coastal city regions. He received a doctorate in ocean physics from the Johns Hopkins University and did post-doctoral work with Princeton University in their Geophysical Fluid Dynamics program. Darrick Borowski Darrick Borowski is an architect, urbanist, and researcher/educator based in New York City. He is Chief of Staff of Design for WeWork, where he is heading up design of WeLive, a new urban housing typology for mobile,

Adriaan Geuze After graduating with a degree in landscape architecture from the Agricultural University of Wageningen in 1987, Adriaan Geuze went on to co-found West 8 Urban Design & Landscape Architecture b.v., a leading urban design practice in Europe. After winning the prestigious Prix-de-Rome in 1990, Geuze, together with West 8, established a distinguished reputation for their unique approach to the planning and design of the public environment. West 8 developed a technique of relating contemporary culture, urban identity, architecture, public space, and engineering within one design, while always taking context into account. In 1992, Geuze founded the Surrealistic Landscape Architecture Foundation, which was instrumental in increasing public awareness of his profession. Geuze has extensive experience in directing Dutch and international teams on projects all over the world. Internationally respected as a professor in architecture and urban design, Geuze frequently lectures and teaches at universities worldwide. Tim Love Tim Love is the founding principal of Utile, a Boston-based architecture and planning firm. Love’s primary focus is the relationship between individual works of architecture and the larger city. As of 2017, Love is working on citywide plans for both Boston and Cambridge, and a comprehensive master plan for Boston City Hall and Plaza. Love is associate professor at the Northeastern University School of Architecture, where he teaches urban design theory and graduate-level research studios. He is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA). Daniel Vasini Daniel Vasini practices as creative director for West 8, working in close collaboration with founding partner Adriaan Geuze. He is

focused on conceiving designs and creating landscapes that are unique to their location. He has led internationally recognized projects with a multidisciplinary approach; shifting scales from strategic master plans to transformative park designs followed by iconic public spaces, which accommodate 21st-century infrastructure needs and the challenges of urbanization. Prior to joining West 8, Vasini worked with Phil Enquist at Skidmore Owings & Merrill. In 2012, he received the Silver Medal Prize for the Malecon of Puerto Vallarta in the category of Best Urban Design Project by the Federation of Mexican Architects (FCARM).


social, small-footprint lifestyles. His work and research revolves around community, technology, and resilient urban futures, with a particular interest in design methods that proceed from investigations into emergence and self-organization in biological systems.


Frontier City: Strategies for Boston Harbor Instructors Adriaan Geuze, Daniel Vasini Report Designers and Editors Jake Watters, Daniel Vasini A Harvard University Graduate School of Design Publication Dean and Alexander and Victoria Wiley Professor of Design Mohsen Mostafavi Assistant Dean and Director for Communications and Public Programs Ken Stewart Editor in Chief Jennifer Sigler Associate Editor Marielle Suba Production Manager Meghan Sandberg Series design by Laura Grey and Zak Jensen ISBN 978-1-934510-65-0 © 2018 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without prior written permission from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. Text and images © 2018 by their authors.

Acknowledgments Thank you to all involved in any kind or matter possible. We truly appreciate the support of Dean Mohsen Mostafavi, Anita Berrizbeitia, Jennifer Sigler, Meghan Sandberg, Marielle Suba, Maggie Janik, Alla Armstrong, Pilar Raynor Jordan, Brian Avilés, Charles Birnbaum, Alan Blumberg, Philip M. Orton, Tim Love, Darrick Borowski, Mia Goldwasser, Richard de Neufville, Jim O’Connel, Julie Wormser, Peter Rieff, Edzo and Kitty Bindels, Nicolette Pot, Annemarie Kuijt, Delaney McGuinness, Saskia Imming, Tommy Dorian, Jonathan Knight, Lydia Franken, Vincent Javet, Janice Tung, Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center, the National Park Service, the NRC, and the staff of the Beacon Hill Bistro Hotel. Image Credits Cover, pages 4, 16, 114–115: Daniel Vasini. Inside cover: Andrew Madl. Pages 10, 13, 14, 48: Courtesy Boston Public Library, Norman Levanthal Map Collection. Page 11: Courtesy University of New Hampshire Digital Collection. Page 12: Doc Searls. Page 15: Courtesy Boston Public Library, Boston Wharf Company Collection. Page 17: Vincent Javet. Page 22: Courtesy Boston Public Library. Pages 74–75: National Park Service Olmsted Archives. Pages 80, 116: Courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection. Pages 20–21, 45, 46–47, 78–79, 98–99, 100, 114–115: Maggie Janik. The editors have attempted to acknowledge all sources of images used and apologize for any errors or omissions. Harvard University Graduate School of Design 48 Quincy Street Cambridge, MA 02138

Studio Report Spring 2016/17

Harvard GSD Department of Landscape Architecture

Students Mengqing Chen, Tim Clark, Bennett Gale, Jeremy Hartley, Anita Helfrich, Lisa Hollywood, Xiaoyin Kuang, Ruichao Li, Chen Lu, Ambrose Luk, Andrew Madl, Mailys Meyer, Fani Papadopoulou, Maria Gloria Robalino, Mann Sangthongjai, Keith Scott, Samantha Solano, Esteban Sun, Sarah Winston, Angela Xiao, Sherry Yang, Hui Yuan, Jenny Zhan, Xin Zhao Studio Collaborators Brian Aviles, Anita Berrizbeitia, Charles Birnbaum, Alan Blumberg, Darrick Borowski, Tim Love

ISBN 978-1-934510-65-0

9 781934 510650 >

Frontier City: Strategies for Boston Harbor  

Frontier City: Strategies for Boston Harbor, studio report, Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Spring semesters 2016 and 2017. In...

Frontier City: Strategies for Boston Harbor  

Frontier City: Strategies for Boston Harbor, studio report, Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Spring semesters 2016 and 2017. In...