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Mending Rifts in the Urban Fabric

The landscapes beneath elevated highway viaducts conjure collective imaginings of danger, foreboding, and forgotten urban space. What if we could leverage clever programing, placemaking, and lighting to transform these overlooked spaces into active spaces for urban residents? Could thoughtful planning also mitigate some of the worse environmental impacts of highways?

Landing Studio, an architecture, design, and research practice founded by Marie Law Adams and Dan Adams, imagined, designed, and implemented a multiple award-winning pilot project, re-evaluating these spaces for better urban and ecological performance – Infra-Space 1: Underground at Ink Block.

“These spaces were never designed with the ground level experience as a priority. Envisioning ways to make the space better wasn’t the greatest challenge, but figuring out how to implement this project through a state transportation agency required some innovation,” said Marie Law Adams, Lecturer, Department of Urban Studies and Planning. “Every aspect of the design is intended to support transportation objectives – by enhancing mobility, improving maintenance access to the viaduct structure, managing runoff, and so on - we had to think in a very comprehensive way about what MassDOT’s mission means.”

Infra-Space 1 spans nearly a half-mile in length through the middle of downtown Boston, below I-93. The area was historically an industrial zone and the area lacked access to parks and open space while the space below the viaduct was characterized by higher rates of crime and of pedestrian traffic fatalities as well as road runoff pollution and contamination. Through careful design the Landing Studio team was able to enhance stormwater management, diverting runoff from the viaduct; create a space for public recreation; access to greenspace and the water; while providing a series of scaffold structures that support operable lighting and art installations.

Speaking to the financial model underlying the project, Adams noted, “the project is made possible through a private partnership, where a local developer provides landscape maintenance, security, and events programming as part of their lease contract for commercial parking under part of the viaduct, which has helped bridge the gap in things that a transportation agency wouldn’t normally be able to undertake.”

In addition to winning multiple awards, including most recently the American Institute of Architects (AIA) 2019 Institute Honor Awards for Regional and Urban Design, Infra-Space 1 is the model for another eight sites in Massachusetts, all of which are in the design concept phase.

Infra-Space is a study and pilot project for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT).

Learn more about Infra-Space via the Landing Studio project page, here.