Below and Beyond: Imagining the future of underground infrastructure at Harvard Square

This studio aims to propose a near-future scenario for the Brattle Tunnel, a piece of decommissioned train infrastructure located under Harvard Square. As the oldest settlements in the US, Boston and its neighboring towns have various written and unwritten—yet intriguing—stories, centered on the existence of underground structures. Many of these stories remain merely mysterious rumors, including the alleged secret tunnels connecting the harbor and the bars during the Prohibition era. However, the structure underneath Harvard Square, Brattle Tunnel, which has been defunct since the Red Line extension between Harvard Sq. and Alewife began operating, presents infinite possibilities both to itself and the ground above. 

The Boston and Cambridge subway system is the oldest in the US, and its history is fundamentally related to urban growth and the shaping of the cities and their vicinities. Since the subway’s first test run between the Park St. Station and Harvard Sq. in 1910, “commutability” between Cambridge and its neighboring towns has increased, affecting the settlement patterns and housing regulations of the towns. Now, Brattle Tunnel lets us imagine how the future of the abandoned underground infrastructure could guide the near and far futures of the ground above and its adjacency. New imaginaries connecting the urban space of Harvard Square with what lies underneath also offer immense possibilities for the ways in which public space can be expanded across a range of uses and affiliations. 

During the first few weeks of the semester, the studio will examine the Square through multiple lenses. Although individual research will mainly refer to the data on the ground above, you must clearly aim to find the relation between “the below” and “the above.” The purpose of the research phase is eventually to decide where to open up the tunnel and how to connect it to the atmosphere ( both literal and metaphorical) so that the infrastructure can be repurposed to guide the future of the urban fabric. Lectures and workshops with guests, including MBTA engineers and real-estate experts, will help you to make speculative proposals that are also realistic. 

As the semester progresses, you will be urged to consider the role of the underground structure in tackling the impact of climate change. It is crucial to look at the tunnel as an element of a holistic physical context that consists of the web of open spaces, rivers, drainage systems, roads, groundwater, soil, subsoil, and air. 

The genuine charm of the empty tunnel and its spatial implications in relation to the Charles river and other surrounding landscapes will give you an opportunity to reimagine the way in which the public occupies and experiences the tight-knit fabric of Harvard Square. Asynchronous virtual site visits (e.g., walk-through videos and photos) will be prepared by the instructor at the start of the semester, and updated and more targeted versions as per students’ requests will also be provided after the mid-term review. 

This is an intense design studio. Your accumulated composite body of knowledge, not only from the studios but also from other classes and experience outside school, will need to be brought into the design process. The studio must collectively pursue a high level of specificity in its plans and sections.

The instructor will be available at all class times throughout the semester.

The studio is open to students in all GSD degree programs.

GSD students may view additional information on option studios:
Option Studio Presentations
Schedule for Zoom Q&A sessions