When Mayor Thomas M. Menino visited Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital’s brand-new state-of-the-art facility at Charlestown Navy Yard in early 2013, he envisioned a fully accessible playground/park in the vacant waterfront land (Parcel 5) next door that would be in place by the end of his term.
To meet the challenge of designing and constructing a waterfront park within an extremely tight timeframe, the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) (formerly the Boston Redevelopment Authority) enlisted the support of Weston & Sampson. Before work on the park began, we performed environmental assessment, remediation, and initial design services at the site. Historically, Parcel 5 was part of Charlestown Navy Yard and the site of historic petroleum releases and fill material impacted with PAHs, lead, and arsenic. In conjunction with site remediation, Weston & Sampson provided master planning, landscape architecture, site/civil engineering, stormwater management, permitting, and electrical/structural engineering. We provided construction oversight for Phase I of the project – the harborwalk system that incorporates adaptation for anticipated sea level rise – and served as lead designer of Boston’s first universally accessible playground on the site.
The park’s design was inspired by the site’s history as a World War II drydock, and sustainable elements include the use of repurposed granite blocks that previously held back seawater; these keel blocks now offer seating and terraced “drydock” walls that define the space. The linear berms along the site edges form a central promenade that provides protection from waterfront exposure and create optimal microclimatic conditions. Opportunities for multi-generational play, physical therapy, and exercise are positioned within this central spine, alongside a variety of seating and gathering spaces. Landscape elements include trees that can naturally tolerate the waterfront location and weather to provide shade and seasonal contrast, as well as hearty groundcover between the keel blocks for erosion protection and color.
With open water on three sides of the site, sea level rise played an important role in determining how best to mitigate potential storm surges. Although sea levels will rise, it won’t be enough to compromise the park in the near future. With careful configuration of earthen mounds and walls, the park becomes a series of baffles to attenuate wave action during storm surges and offer protection.