Transforming Melnea Cass Boulevard: Architecture, Transport and Regeneration in Central Boston

People have growing awareness about how they want to organise the environments in which they live, work and trade. Users and owners of houses and commercial buildings are nowadays evolving from anonymous persons or target groups with predictive behavior into serious partners in all stages of the development and construction of projects. This also includes a growing awareness of what is high quality in architecture. But how can architects integrate these expectations into their designs and make sure this pluralism of ideas can be used in a fruitful way? How can they make sure buildings and urban designs that are created in this process will also benefit the community as a whole? How can this attention for the more individualistic needs of users be combined with the equally strong collective need for healthier and more equal living conditions in cities? Can architects design tools and processes for living environments in constant change, provoking, inviting, interacting, comfortable, intriguing cities? Can these designs be made in such a way that they are financially and commercially viable and at the same time culturally and socially ambitious?

Architecture with an Attitude:
In this studio, we want to produce intelligent architecture that includes users in its design. Students will be invited to investigate different scenarios and explore their own position on this topic. There are many ways to approach this. Strongly defined architecture can be used to catalyze the development of neighborhoods and cities and inspire active involvement of the community and future users. Adaptive and changeable design solutions like framework or casco designs can present flexible alternatives with a more open-ended appearance. On a larger scale of thinking, structuralist architecture or interactive design programs can help to develop strategies for interaction between architecture, developers and users.

The site for this project will be Melnea Cass Boulevard in Boston. The Melnea Cass corridor is targeted to become an urban civic anchor for the Roxbury neighborhood. It poses an interesting case study of urban history and transportation planning in Boston. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Roxbury was an active African American neighborhood slated to be the home of an eight-lane elevated highway. Many areas were cleared for the highway construction. After community activism killed the project to save the neighborhood, a multi-lane grounded boulevard was constructed instead and named after a local community activist who stopped the highway project, Melnea Cass. The resulting wide boulevard, lined with vacant plots, parking lots, and low-density programming became a physical and psychological barrier disconnecting Roxbury from downtown Boston. Roxbury has never recovered to its original vibrancy before highway construction began.

The sites for the architectural designs will be all along Melnea Cass Boulevard and in relationship with the development of Central Boston.

Since the project is ‘around the corner’ frequent site visits are possible. Local stakeholders will be invited to provide information and give reviews. The studio will also study other examples of user participation/user friendly/user neutral architecture and of public infrastructure projects. Research will be done in teams. Each team will study the implementation of one of the scenarios (User perspective, Social perspective, or Commercial perspective) for the future development of the Melnea Cass Boulevard site.