This urban redevelopment project of the Fort Point district in Boston, MA proposes a unique strategy to reduce city-wide traffic congestion, increase livability and property values and contributes significantly to the resilience of the city as a whole.
A sustainable city is liveable, identifiable, and created by its inhabitants. Its design must also take into account its climate, culture, and unique operations. A generic and all-encompassing "sustainable solution" is only possible on an abstract level. Any methodology that claims to be for a sustainable city is only valuable if it applies to real-world situations.
This project aimed to address this problem by developing a concept and workable program for sustainable decision-making to address density, demographics, logistics, and environmental quality.
Applying this becomes a process rather than a set of rules.
This project generates and applies this process to a 10-acre site in downtown Boston. It is beside the central business district and is currently occupied by parking lots and the Diller Scofidio + Renfro Institute of Contemporary Art.
The Premise of the Project
Research shows that the United States is the largest consumer of energy per capita than any other country in the world. Roughly one-third of it goes to transportation, another third to residential use, and the remainder for industrial purposes.
How we design and use our residential neighborhoods and transportation systems can either add to or minimize the impact.
Continuing on our current development trajectory, our theoretical ecological footprint says we will soon be using more land than actually exists on earth though this can be reduced.
One such concept that will allow for the drastic change we need is called "Deep Change." If we adhere to Deep Change's guidelines, we can reduce our energy demands by more than half and start building more self-sufficient cities.
Deep Change has a range of particular guidelines and benchmarks for various operations in our lives. For architects and city planners, it means constructing higher density and mixed-use buildings, smaller houses, and locally sourced and more environmentally friendly materials. In urban areas, this also means moving away from private motor vehicles and a shift toward vegetarianism.
Addressing the overuse and reducing wasted energy in transportation and housing is an area of great leverage in any city, particularly Boston.
Traffic-related Energy Use
Traffic takes up one-third of the energy use in the US, of which 70% is attributed to the inefficient use of private cars. This is unnecessary, particularly when compared to countless other cities worldwide and their ability to move people around via alternatives, such as public transport.
When comparing Boston with Copenhagen, we see a reduction of car use by about 400% and a large reduction in commuting times by the Danes.
Another example of inefficiency in Boston is density. The city center has approximately 240,000 jobs but only 27,000 inhabitants. Most of the energy from transport use is attributed to commuting in private cars.
Residential Energy Use
The most effective way to reduce residential energy use is with higher density living. This is often measured by an average floor area ratio (FAR), which takes the total floor area and divides it by the area of land.
Research shows an ideal floor area ratio (FAR) of around 9, similar to the average FAR ratio in Barcelona.
How can a city's average FAR value be increased? How can we retain a cities ease of living with such high density?
Luckily, there are many examples to be found, and we can learn from their policies. In addition to Barcelona, Copenhagen and Amsterdam are good examples of dense and liveable cities. The first step in realization is through addressing flaws in urban development, traffic and housing policies.
Focusing on the quality of spaces from a human perspective assures cities remain livable, despite a higher density population. Our concept produces a vast set of guidelines that we can apply to our particular site in downtown Boston.
Applying Principles to the Boston Site
Applying these principles to the site in Boston shifts the program to more of a residential focus, including retail and office spaces to enhance the use of space and ensure it's moderately self-sufficient.
A minimum of 20% open space (preferably up to 40%) of the total development area is required to have a quality urban environment. Eliminating cross streets and covering the large thoroughfare road helps to optimize land usage.
A FAR of 9 is achieved much more easily through sparse high-rise buildings or denser low-rise structures. We use a combination of these to develop a more diverse and flexible arrangement. The height of buildings has been kept low, allowing more sunlight to come into the streets and to ensure the neighborhood has a more relatable human-size scale.
Regarding structures, there are rules to ensure that standards for a range of different spaces and features, including arcades, green roofs, and natural circulation are reached. All the guidelines allow for a great variety of configurations and adaptability to aspects of local culture.
Car access is restricted to emergency and supply traffic. Instead, bicycle-relates infrastructure and an additional subway line to commute downtown and merges with the existing under-used Blue line. Truck routes are maintained in their current form.
Pedestrians are drawn through the site on their way to work or the ICA and convention center through various paths that tie in the existing harbor walk and other places of cultural interest. Open spaces are arranged at the knuckles and alongside these paths.
An area below ground level is utilized to help densify the site. It locates retail, transportation lines, and other related hubs underground, keeping the ground level available for more quality open space, cycling, restaurants, and entertainment. The energy hub for the collection and generation of energy is also on this level, as well as the limited number of car spaces.
The phasing of the project is carried out in stages relating to each single-tower community. Each phase has a certain amount of occupants, buildings, and retail space, to function in isolation from others. When finalized, the individual phases form a region that is more than the sum of their parts by ensuring shared spaces, environments, and organizational structures.