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Old 07-06-2008, 01:38 AM   #1
briv
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City Hall Plaza: Why Preserve Failure?

From LAND online, a publication of the American Society of Landscape Architects:

Quote:
July 1, 2008

Land Matters
Can this urban plaza be saved? Should it be saved?

I visited Boston?s City Hall Plaza in the company of one of our LA forums (?In Search of Public Space,? August 2001), and the place struck me as an urban design disaster?a featureless expanse of brick on which pedestrians look dwarfed and lost. Our forum included four big-city landscape architects and an expert on urban spaces from Harvard. Not one of them had a single good thing to say about it.

Their bad opinion is widely shared. Project for Public Spaces rated it the worst urban plaza anywhere, and while PPS is controversial among landscape architects, in this case it has plenty of company. Ever since the 11-acre plaza was built in the 1960s, Bostonians have repeatedly called for its demolition.



Imagine my surprise, then, to read an appeal by Boston architect and architectural historian Gary Wolf to preserve City Hall Plaza. In the Cultural Landscape Foundation?s e-newsletter, MoMoMa (www.tclf.org), Wolf calls the plaza ?a grand civic forum? and suggests that any perceived shortcomings could be remedied by ?improvements? to the existing design along the lines of an arcade that was installed in 2001. (In my observation, it didn?t help much.) Mayor Thomas Menino has proposed more drastic solutions for the space, from building a hotel to setting up a wind turbine. I personally like the wind turbine idea, but why not a whole wind farm? It couldn?t make the place any worse.

Rather than proposing little tweaks to the existing plaza, a better line of questioning might be: How could landscape architects and others transform City Hall Plaza into a human-scaled, inviting downtown park for the people of Boston? One thing?s sure: Any satisfying redesign would require the demolition of much if not all of the existing plaza. As I write this, however, any suggestions may be moot. The mayor is trying to build political momentum to sell the whole place and build City Hall somewhere else.

More broadly, are historic preservationists good at choosing their battles?or do they really think that every historic landscape, anywhere, should be preserved? Some modernist-era landscapes, for example, merit preservation, but many are cold, inhuman expressions of architectural arrogance?such as the ?windswept plazas? of which City Hall Plaza is perhaps the epitome. In any case, doesn?t the preserve/demolish debate leave out the important third voice?those who advocate extensive redesign of failed places for human comfort, pleasure, and inspiration?
Visit The Dirt and post your thoughts.

J. William ?Bill? Thompson, FASLA

Editor / bthompson@asla.org
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Old 07-06-2008, 08:56 AM   #2
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Re: City Hall Plaza: Why Preserve Failure?

Gary Wolf's office is across from the plaza so I guess we can consider him a NIMBY.
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Old 07-15-2008, 05:44 AM   #3
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Re: City Hall Plaza: Why Preserve Failure?

City Hall Plaza can't be remedied by landscape architects. It needs buildings to define it and reduce its size. Build enough structures and at some point it will seem right.
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Old 07-15-2008, 10:09 AM   #4
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Re: City Hall Plaza: Why Preserve Failure?

The plaza need three things, IMO:

- shade
- places to sit
- buildings surrounding it with activated ground-floors (shops, cafes, etc) where customers could spill out into the plaza

I think City Hall itself is a wonderful building architecturally. It is unique and speaks very much about the time period when it was built, a period of Boston history we should not forget. The building, should however, be "opened up" more, so that people can penetrate it through its courtyards and many entrances. It should be a place where people fell comfortable congregating, not shut out of.
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Old 07-15-2008, 10:17 AM   #5
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Re: City Hall Plaza: Why Preserve Failure?

The Paul Revere mall (Prado) in the North End might be a good place to look for examples of how to create shade. it is entirely paved, yet has large trees all over it.
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Old 07-15-2008, 10:32 AM   #6
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Re: City Hall Plaza: Why Preserve Failure?

Hanover street really needs to be reconnected Cambridge Street. Replacing the JFK building with new development would allow that to happen and give an active edge to one side of the plaza. A crescent of buildings enclosing the Cambridge Street side of the plaza from a reconnected Hanover Street to the Walk to the Sea (Why don't we bring back Cornhill Street? as a pedestrian only zone) would complete the enclosure, while somehow activating an angled view to City Hall. Mixed use buildings with retail, preferably cafes on the ground floors. Take the remaining space between city hall the backs of the new buildings and the edge of Hanover street to incorporate a shaded plaza.

The head house for Government Center Station should be incorporated into one of the new buildings to save us all a few hundred million.

The traffic island between Court, Cambridge, and Tremont could get some new monumental feature to define neo-Scollay Square.

A modification to Center Plaza to open up a view to Pemberton Square and the Adams Courthouse from Court Street, maybe cut out a sliver and make it a transparent connector, would be a good idea as well.
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Old 10-26-2008, 08:01 PM   #7
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Re: City Hall Plaza: Why Preserve Failure?

^ All good ideas, Lurker --and easy to accomplish with relatively ordinary buildings. You can trust architects to overdo it though, and perhaps produce a frantic hodgepodge. One monument here is enough, and that monument is, appropriately enough ... City Hall.
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Old 10-26-2008, 08:30 PM   #8
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Re: City Hall Plaza: Why Preserve Failure?

Lurker's ideas coincide exactly with my own. As an addendum, if we need a new City Hall, put it in the opposite corner of the plaza from the existing one, with one arm down Cambridge St and another down towards Congress St. This would still leave enough place in the center for a more sensibly sized plaza.

As for that traffic island, get the statue of John Winthrop that used to stand there back from its current residence in the Back Bay and put it back.

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Old 10-26-2008, 08:40 PM   #9
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Re: City Hall Plaza: Why Preserve Failure?

^Interesting. Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. In fact, often.
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Old 10-27-2008, 12:36 AM   #10
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Re: City Hall Plaza: Why Preserve Failure?

Who can refresh our memories on why the Hanover Street extension (recreation) failed, when it was proposed back in the 1990's (or was it the ots?). Didn't they want to make the street private? Yes, something about what's his name was willing to pay for rebuilding the road and putting in a hotel on it, but in return it would be a private road accessible only to hotel guests? Something like that.
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Old 10-27-2008, 04:59 PM   #11
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Re: City Hall Plaza: Why Preserve Failure?

The Oklahoma City Federal Building truck bombing caused the Feds to red flag the extension of Hanover back to Cambridge Street at the time. Given that the Federal Reserve Bank is closer to active streets, and there is a sufficient grade separation to create (significantly more durable than what's at the Federal Reserve) defensive landscaping, it seems foolish for this idea to get put on a back burner any longer.
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