Boston Living with Water

The proposal for structural new protection of Boston – by Thetis SpA, Proap – João Nunes prize winning entry in the city’s competition– against coastal flooding turns a safety precaution into an opportunity to create a multifaceted ecology feature.

João Nunes, Boston Living with waters
This article was originally published, feature-lenght, in the Green special report, Domus 994, September 2015


The focus of our competition entry “Total Resilient Approach” is based on the redesign of Morrissey Boulevard, a strategy that works on local and territorial levels.

Thetis SpA, Proap – João Nunes, Boston Living with Waters
Thetis SpA, Proap – João Nunes, Boston Living with Waters. Top: preliminary sketch showing waterways and the grid of the built environment. Above: site plan of the project area
Operating on different scales within a single ecological network, the protection plan can be implemented over time and is therefore adaptable to climate changes. The Boston Bay is destined to undergo rapid changes due to rising sea levels. The defence proposals afford an opportunity to speed up landscape transformations with a multidisciplinary approach. A long-term element of our project for the Bay is the rehabilitation of its ecosystems in order to protect the coastline by means of sea-grass meadows, oyster barriers and dunes, and improve biodiversity by enhancing self-adaptive systems such as salt marshes.
Thetis SpA, Proap – João Nunes, Boston Living with Waters
Thetis SpA, Proap – João Nunes, Boston Living with Waters. Volumetric plan of the project area with perspective sections, from top, Morrissey Boulevard, the planned Harborpoint waterway, along Southeast Expressway and Old Harbor beach
Columbia Point offers an opportunity for short-term actions. We aim for a new condition of living with water instead of against it, meaning an increase of contact surfaces with seawater by bringing it inside the mainland. The proposal favours water-based habitats and introduces a morphological diversification of elements for seawater and freshwater. The proposal pursues richer anthropic use by means of water-related actions, using the opportunity of risk management to redesign a whole and complex landscape. The topographic reconfiguration of Morrissey Boulevard includes raising it by 18 feet to maintain functionality in worst-case scenarios, to become a physical protection for lower areas, and to become a multi-purpose platform integrated with adjacent buildings and with rainwater collecting structures.
Thetis SpA, Proap – João Nunes, Boston Living with Waters
Thetis SpA, Proap – João Nunes, Boston Living with Waters. Schematic plan of waterways, topography, infrastructure and vegetation
As for the Amtrak station and neighbourhood connections, a new JFK/UMass station represents the site’s main connection to the city. Its renovation will conform it to the new altimetry planned for the site. This new multilevel building will include a service platform at a lower level, allowing direct pedestrian connection with the Dorchester neighbourhood and the train station. The higher parts of the building will host neighbourhood facilities and mixed-use spaces. The network of waterways will be divided into two subsystems, a saltwater one connected to the Boston Bay, and a freshwater one that processes rainwater and wastewater. The seawater system features the creation of three new waterways on the peninsula of Columbia Point. Two lie parallel to Morrissey Boulevard and a third runs along Harbor Boulevard and ends aside Harbor Walk. The combination of the three allows a natural tidal flushing of the waterparks. A system of freshwater waterways is proposed in the northern part of the site with the dual purpose of phytoremediation of wastewater and water collection.
Thetis SpA, Proap – João Nunes Boston Living with Waters.
Thetis SpA, Proap – João Nunes, Boston Living with Waters. Rendering of the Harborpoint area 20 years from now
The tide protection system is divided into two elements, urban seawalls and levees. The built-up Harbor Point is subdivided into two areas and their perimeters elevated to a safe level (15 feet) through the creation of multipurpose urban seawalls that take on the shape of a dune park along the eastern shore, and that of an elevated bicycle path along the planned Harborpoint waterway. To protect Columbia Point from erosion, a system of oyster barriers and sea-grass meadows is proposed along the eastern shore, and a salt marsh is reconstructed along the south.
Thetis SpA, Proap – João Nunes, Boston Living with Waters
Thetis SpA, Proap – João Nunes, Boston Living with Waters. Typological sections
Waterways are designed as one big park connected by a linear system of walkways. Water circulates through the site in an articulate interface between land and water, with transactions through dikes, terraces, sand dunes, marshes and wetlands. This would be similar to the linear parks of the Emerald Necklace, designed by Olmsted. The proposal aims to enhance the presence of ecological clusters, seeking the ecological complexity typical of neighbouring ecosystems. Sand dunes, brackish and freshwater canals will be new habitats. A backbone of diverse greenways for pedestrians and cyclists offers recreation and safe mobility through the whole of Columba Point.
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Boston Living with Water, Columbia Point, Boston, Massachusetts
Project: Thetis SpA, Proap – João Nunes
Project team: Thetis SpA, Proap – João Nunes
Structural engineering: Thetis SpA
Client: Boston Redevelopment Authority, Boston Harbour Association, Boston Society of Architects, the City of Boston
Area: 200 hectars
Project phase: 2014–2015

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