Landscape is Architecture is the Rose Kennedy Greenway

What would Boston look like if the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway landscape had been created with landscape urbanism in mind by designers who think “landscape replaces architecture as the basic building block of contemporary urbanism?” The current issue of ArchitectureBoston (No space! It’s more efficient and modern and unreadable that way.) asks that question in a panel discussion piece titled “Tectonic Shift.”

Mind you, Boston doesn’t really experience tectonic shifts. The nearest edge of a tectonic plate is called the “Mid Atlantic Ridge” for a reason. But only one of the experts featured in the article is a geologist, and she probably wasn’t consulted for the site’s layout, so I will forgive ArchitectureBoston. For now.

Be that as it may,”Tectonic Shift” does discuss actual Boston parks and landscape architecture (after several hundred words about the shifting relationship between buildings, land, and designers)–and what the panelists have to say is interesting. Asked about the Greenway, Wendy Goldsmith, geologist and founder of The Bioengineering Group, comments:

“This is a case where some of the most important concerns were put last on the list. Lots of people other than landscape architects, let alone landscape urbanists, were calling the shots. And so, many other aspects of the project crystallized before there was actually anything resembling a final program for how the Greenway would operate, or how it would look and function.”

But what would the Greenway look like if the designers thought about integrating the landscape and the city? Here’s the somewhat shocking answer from three panelists: Elizabeth Padjen, the editor of ArchitectureBoston; Laura Solano, landscape architect and principal at Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates; and Shauna Gillies-Smith, landscape architect and principal at Ground.


Elizabeth Padjen: If we were to re-do the Greenway now, I suspect we would keep part of the superstructure of the old Artery and rework it as an artifact or walkway.

Laura Solano: I agree with you. There was something sublime about driving up over the city streets.

Shauna Gillies-Smith: That sublime quality is one of the appeals of New York’s High Line, along with a nostalgia for the big old industrial superstructure as you’re floating through the city. And the elements are beautiful: the furniture is beautiful, the planking is clever and smart, and the planting is rich and a strong contrast to the more controlled environment. There’s no question that the High Line would have influenced thinking about the opportunities for the Greenway.


For those of you who are unacquainted with the site, the High Line is “a public park built on a 1.45-mile-long elevated rail structure running from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street on Manhattan’s West Side.” There’s much more information about it here.

Before you go and click through New York City’s finest highway garden, think for a moment; what would the Greenway be like if it had been built on top of the Central artery?  There would have been plenty of room for all those museums and YMCAs and theaters and everything else underneath– and no one would be calling the Greenway a median strip, if only because most median strips aren’t elevated 25 feet over the roadway.

But here we are, with a plain old flat Greenway and a Big Dig house made out of the Central Artery’s scraps in Lexington. You may not miss the view from the highway as much as Solano, but the question deserves an answer: how can we link the Greenway to the landscape that is our the city?

If that question is a bit too abstract, the BostonArchitecture (No space!) site also features an interesting article on urban agriculture, and several pretty pictures from around the northeast. Enjoy.

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