Surface + Edge: Indeterminacy
Designing the Waterfront of Boston Bay
An estuary demands gradients not walls, fluid occupancies not defined land uses, negotiated moments not hard edges. In short, it demands the accommodation of the sea not a war against it…
——Anuradha Mathur and Dilip Da Cunha, Soak: Mumbai in an Estuary, 2009
Core Studio I
Our task is to conceptualize a new urban square on this site that exploits the indefinite, moving edge between land and water. The project is sited in Boston’s Seaport, a neighborhood undergoing large-scale transformation that has been in the works for the past several decades. The site is a 100 m x 90 m plot of land that includes an existing park connecting Northern Avenue and the waterfront as well as a fragment of the existing parking lot behind the Institute of Contemporary Art. Currently the site meets the water in a wooden boardwalk cantilevered over a sloped, stone revetment; the water is physically separate from the flat surface of dry land above. In contrast, this exercise asks students to connect the street level of the site with the Mean Low Water through gradients of constructed land and gradients of vegetation associated with different moisture conditions.
In the urbanized world, the edge of land must be seen as a fluctuating, dynamic condition. We can describe the edge as indeterminate, historically; urbanization has successively hardened the land, expanded it outward in the direction of the sea, and dramatically altered its natural systems. Economically, as modes of commerce and transport have changed—from shipping and rail economies to today’s prevalence for touristic and real estate economies at the water’s edge—the modes of shaping and adjusting the edge have varied widely. We can describe the ecology of the coastal edge as indefinite: diurnal tides keep it constantly moving, and adaptations of physiography and habitat occur through construction, erosion and deposition, growth and decay, salt intrusion, succession, and myriad circumstances of human occupation.