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Design + nature take on urban blight at Filene’s

As Bostonians are only too aware, the heart of Downtown Crossing currently features a gaping pit between preserved building facades: the stalled Filene’s redevelopment project. The development went on hold after the economic crisis of 2008. As a measure of hope, designers were recently invited to reimagine the blighted area. CRJA submitted two designs alongside 20 other architects, artists, and designers. The designs were featured last month in the Boston Globe and on its Web site,

Here’s the design I submitted, Urban Gardens, along with a little background on its genesis:

This design is an opportunity for the existing Filene’s block to host nature in an otherwise blighted urban setting. The design inspiration is informed by the biological phenomenon known as mutual symbiosis (or mutualism). This is when two unlike organisms benefit from each other. Using the biological principles of mutualism conceptually, the framework of the design presents itself scientifically and artistically. The existing Filene’s structure acts as host for a variety of technological and biological elements, including vertical garden, light installation, sustainable energy power plant, and artificial wildlife habitat. Ultimately the design intent is for the passersby to question the relationship between nature and the urban environment.

Here are a few ideas that I didn’t submit, taken from the cutting room floor:

On the left, Running of the Brides: A campy take on Filene’s traditional bridal event. The idea was to drape the building in oversized veils, wedding dresses and garters.

And on the right, Urban Diving: This one was an attempt to interpret the collective mood after the 2008 financial crisis through performance art. En masse diving events would occur on Friday in synchronization with the closing bell of Wall Street.

by Travis Ewen

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.