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Urban Agriculture in Boston

Urban agriculture in East Boston

On December 19, 2013, the Boston Zoning Commission approved a new zoning ordinance known as Article 89 that will support the growth of commercial farming in Boston. The ordinance supports farmers who want to pursue ground level farming, open air rooftop farming and greenhouse development. It moves Boston into the 21st century with other progressive cities like New York, Portland, Oregon, and Chicago, who are committed to the growth of this new industry. As urban agriculture gains momentum locally and around the world, landscape architects are poised to facilitate the planning and design of agricultural systems in complex urban environments. The question is, what will urban farming look like in Boston?  CRJA’s Edward Adams’ thesis entitled “Growing East Boston” explores developing a framework for urban agriculture in East Boston.

East Boston’s post industrial waterfront

East Boston, like many other urban communities around the world, is dealing with critical issues including climate change, pollution, soil contamination, job security, and food accessibility. On East Boston’s waterfront, post-industrial lots lie vacant and inaccessible and serve as reminders of a period of industrial production. This project explores restoring production to the waterfront with sustainable urban agriculture as a catalyst for community growth.

The project proposes to solve an impending food crisis while simultaneously rejuvenating East Boston’s waterfront by creating Boston’s first urban CSA farm. The design is based on implementing a flexible modular framework with the ability to change over time based on various levels of production.  The framework is based on a productive module of 40’x80’ overlaid over the existing conditions and history of the site. The 40’x80’ module has the capability of reducing 25 tons of CO2 emissions annually, providing fresh produce to 20 people annually and providing housing for more than 20 people. The module serves as a benchmark for tracking productivity and establishing a new form of development on the waterfront. Inspired by East Boston’s historic street grid and piers, the grid framework maintains order between nature and manmade systems, establishing a new sustainable infrastructure. It provides the framework for a series of phases to remediate the site, implement urban agriculture, set the stage for development, and adapt to future issues like climate change.

Phase 1: Remediation addresses post-industrial contamination on site and in Boston Harbor by restoring historic salt marsh, using phytoremediation to cleanse contaminated soil, and in-situ remediation to address the most contaminated areas.

Phase 2: Implementation is the process of implementing agriculture on site once most contamination has been remediated. Agriculture will consist of raised planters, year round greenhouses, and aquaculture dispersed on site according to previous contamination levels.

Phase 3: Development will set the stage for sustainable development to move into the site once agriculture has matured and the site has been completely remediated. Development will take the form of modular shipping, container housing, and commercial spaces in the form of restaurants, small businesses, and food outlets taking advantage of harvests on site.

Phase 4: Adaptation will address the issue of sea level rise over the 21st century. Sea level rise is expected to be anywhere between 2’-5’ over the next 100 years. In order to protect against extreme high tides and storm surges, the site’s flexible modular framework will adapt to changing sea levels by incorporating more salt marsh and moving agriculture out to sea on new floating platforms/barges.

Further exploration of Phase 3 focuses on the community agriculture center/marketplace, which is the focal point of the master plan. The new center will be located at the intersection of the Maverick MBTA station, the East Boston Greenway, the Boston Harborwalk, and proposed water taxis between Downtown and East Boston. The community center links to an outdoor marketplace/mixed use park, serving primarily as an outdoor farmers’ market and food truck venue for residents and visitors. At this junction will be located modular shipping containers, residential and commercial development, neighbors’ raised planting beds, hoop houses, and the salt marsh. Productive ecology mixes with modular development, stimulating revived activity on the waterfront along with economic growth. The center’s focus will be on educational, volunteer, and employment opportunities, while the outdoor marketplace will host farmers’ markets throughout the week.

The overall design not only solves the impending food problem in East Boston but addresses soil contamination, environmental degradation, sea level rise, and accessibility. The flexibility, light development, and modular framework of the site will allow for future adaptation and the growth of urban agriculture will help revitalize and sustain the community.


Pat Summitt Plaza at the University of Tennessee


The Pat Summitt Plaza at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville honors the former UT head basketball coach and celebrates the success of the Lady Vols basketball program. Situated nearby Thompson-Bowling Arena at the intersection of Lake Loudon Boulevard and Phillip Fulmer Way, the plaza welcomes visitors to basketball games and provides a permanent tribute to Coach Summitt.


Existing Conditions


Site Plan


Conceptual sketch of retaining wall design

The site’s existing conditions posed a design challenge.   A steep slope encompassed the site, which abutts a parking garage and sits at the intersection of two prominent streets.  Extensive grading changes were needed to accommodate the plaza and stabilize the slope. A curved, signature retaining wall retains the steep slope and creates a dramatic backdrop for the sculpture of Pat Summitt that dominates the space. Raised on a podium above the plaza, the sculpture is accessible to all and is reflective of Ms. Summitt’s relationship with her athletes and fans. Some elements of the design subtly recall the basketball court, while others create a pleasant place for gathering at this prominent spot on campus.


Courtyard rendering


Courtyard rendering

On November 22, 2013 the plaza was unveiled and dedicated to Pat Summitt.


Gate 21 at Neyland Stadium

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Over time, the site of Gate 21 at Neyland Stadium had matured into a worn, confused space where the quality of daily student life became secondary to the functional needs surrounding the programming and activity of seven home football games each year. Pedestrian routes through the site became circuitous and marginalized by the competing loading, staging and parking of vehicles. Areas for congregating did not exist for those attending nearby classes and events most of the year, and on game day, patrons found the space severely overcrowded and unsafe. Gate 21 was entirely a pass-through space incapable of carrying the capacity it needed and lacking the sense of place and identity it deserved as a campus landmark.Existing ConditionsGate 21 After
Site Plan
As subconsultants to McCarty Holsaple McCarty, a Knoxville architectural firm who had worked with University planners and athletic department representatives to identify phased improvements for Neyland Stadium, CRJA’s Knoxville office collaborated with design team members and project stakeholders to conceptualize a new plaza and amphitheater outside Gate 21. The design of these two spaces successfully balances the activities of tens of thousands of game-day patrons with the needs and comfort of daily student life, including dozens of bus transfers each day. From initial site programming to final construction documentation, CRJA also found ways to embrace innovative technologies that would help the larger campus objective of developing sustainable sites. For example, in order to promote a healthy viable tree canopy of shade for the plaza over time, large volumes of planting soil were contained in structural cells that also support the pavement and vehicular loading above. To improve the quality of run-off exiting the site, permeable pavement was also installed in intercepting bands to slow and cool stormwater, while reducing the pollutants typically found in total suspended solids.

In 2011, the project received an Honor Award from Tennessee’s Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, as well as a Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Award from the State’s Department of Environment & Conservation.

Here are some additional before, during construction, and after photos:

Amphitheater & Plaza




Public comment sessions to improve the SITES and LEED v4 guidelines

A new year is quickly approaching, and with it comes the rollout of the updated (and hopefully, improved) LEED v4 and the first official guidelines for SITES (Sustainable Site Systems), following the revisions resulting from comments by…YOU! It’s nearing the end of the public comment period for both LEED and SITES, but there is still time for your voice to be heard, and it’s much easier than one would anticipate.

SITES public commenting period ends on November 26th. Start here.

LEED v4 public comment period ends December 10th. Go here.

To illustrate, I will admit that the e-mail for the extension of the public comment period for SITES sat flagged in my e-mail box for nearly three weeks. It seemed too daunting. However, like many of my peers, I have complained about the flaws in the Sites portion of LEED and SITES offers landscape architects the unique opportunity to have a rating system specifically designed to reflect and reward the efforts we put forth in designing sustainable landscapes. With that in mind, I bit the bullet this past week and downloaded the commenting packet.

It was straightforward and simple! In 15 minutes, I had commented on three credits. If I wanted to comment on all of them, I could have. If I wanted to comment on only one, I could have. That is the beauty of this process – the professional can comment on the credits they feel the mostly strongly about in terms of needed revisions and/or the ones they feel their expertise can help lead to a stronger credit. You don’t have to do it all in one sitting, either. Your account saves what you have entered and you can go back as often as you want to edit until the public commenting period has ended on November 26th.

SITES screenshot

SITES comment screenshot

For those of us familiar with LEED, you will also notice much of the language is pulled directly from LEED guidelines (and in many of the footnotes, it even refers to the specific LEED credits it is sourced from). This was by design; we will continue to see these systems intertwine, but the availability of SITES will allow projects without buildings, or where buildings are secondary, to have a strong stand alone rating system – but only if we help make it a worthwhile system with our professional feedback. That being said, due to the similar language and ideology, why not also participate in the LEED commenting period, while you are already in the mood – you will find that if you already have your USGBC login, it is extremely straightforward and you can selectively comment.

LEED comment

We have a professional obligation to participate in these commenting periods; to help hold each other accountable for creating designs that will improve the quality of life on a larger, interconnected scale. These rating systems may not be the measuring stick that we use for sustainability, often wishing to go above and beyond, but they are a good starting point and a great way to help educated our clients about why some of our design decisions are worthwhile investments.

What are you waiting for? Both systems are aiming to have revised guidelines out mid-2013.

SITES public commenting period ends on November 26thStart here.

LEED v4 public comment period ends December 10th. Go here.

by Lauren DuCharme, ASLA, LEED AP

West End Longfellow Place Improvements

The existing conditions at the Longfellow Towers apartment complex in Boston’s West End neighborhood expressed failing site and structure conditions, including water leaking and penetration to parking and office structures below the on-structure deck and mezzanine. The pre-existing auto court and colonnade presented a cold, poorly illuminated, and generally inhospitable environment for pedestrians and visitors alike. The mezzanine level pool deck, which provided bathing and gathering for residents of the West End housing system, also expressed a vast, barren, and stark open space. Support structures including an odd pool storage house along with an insecure open stairway to the lower level maintenance also posed a safety concern and were an eyesore to the residents of the space. Large, overbearing yet necessary vent shaft structures also inhabited the space. In all, the client’s desire to reposition the property in order to stay competitive with the current and emerging housing market in downtown Boston served as the catalyst for this redevelopment.

existing conditions auto courtexisting conditions pool deck.jpg

Project design philosophy

The design approach for the Longfellow Towers Improvement project sought to provide warmth, clarity, proportion and continuity to a seemingly forgotten and underutilized space. The existing residential towers, with their striking shadow-play created by the strong fenestrations in the concrete, served to inform the design and proportions of the new spaces and the elements within those spaces. Understanding the movement through and views of the space, CRJA chose to use warm materials such as tan and brown stones and colored concretes throughout the design to offset the once cold nature of the environment.

View of auto court looking towards Staniford Street from Longfellow Place Building 4

The auto court, with its asphalt pavement and tall curbs, and which was once dominated by cars, has been returned to the pedestrian – shifting the access and comfort of the space to its primary user. A hard, cold center island was transformed into a planted centerpiece and textural forecourt for the urban residences, featuring custom designed granite and teak seating elements. An underlying function of “3” provides a simple rhythm within the space as well as a graphic tie to the “W” and “E” associated with the West End. The unit stone color aids in identifying movement zones from drop-off areas, with the colors associated with drop-off zones blending into the colonnade. Cutting back the pre-existing overhang of the mezzanine level allowed for increased light to make its way into the covered walkway zone.

custom benches within auto court island

The design philosophy of warmth, clarity and proportion continues in the pool deck, grounding the space on the rectangular pool form and extruding a “bar” in plan on the space. A shifting circular cabana seating zone anchors one end of this “bar”, while a new pool house finds a prominent and clear home at the other end. The surface shifts between concrete unit paver, Trex decking, and granite, with a custom reflecting paving pattern of unit stone occurring within the bar adjacent to the pool. The pre-existing concrete vent shaft was repositioned into a “lantern” art piece with a custom, backlit, Trespa lattice screen wrapping the circular form, which was designed by CRJA. Surrounding the pool area are a custom aluminum fence and concrete wall which also draw inspiration from the linear shifting shadow-play of the tower elevation.

Cabana seating looking towards vent shaft lantern and pool house

Sun deck, pool house, and vent shaft lantern

Project Significance

To create a truly integrated design, CRJA worked collaboratively with Elkus Manfredi Architects to develop a strong relationship between architecture and landscape. Often, design creativity is tempered or hindered by a site’s context or construction limitations. The Longfellow Place Improvement Project chose to draw from what many consider a “Brutalist” architectural expression the essence and unique moments of shadow and repetition in the site design and detailing. Working within the very strict, tight spatial and weight limitations of the on-deck condition, the design team finely detailed and executed a rich and complementary pallet of materials. By employing lightweight structural fills, CRJA achieved the desired pavements and surfaces within the pool deck area. Reuse and repositioning of existing site elements which many would have chosen to demolish or ignore, such as the Vent Shaft Lantern, and turning them into fitting focal elements within the space further helped to express a truly creative landscape design approach. The transformation succeeds in creating a true urban oasis for the users of the space, providing unique and identifiable pedestrian level spaces as well as graphically contextual overhead views of the property for all of the inhabitants of the towers and adjacent structures.

Here are some additional photos of the completed auto court and pool deck:

view of auto court looking towards longfellow place building

view from auto court island looking at Longfellow Place Building 4

Sun deck

Trellis_Cabana Seating

aerial of pool deck

All finished site photos by Chuck Choi Photography

Carol R. Johnson Associates (CRJA) is an award-winning landscape architectural design and environmental planning firm with offices in Boston, Knoxville, and Beijing. Founded in 1959, our practice has expanded over the years into a 50-person firm serving clients throughout the U.S., the Middle East, China and other international locales.