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Transforming one of Boston’s most iconic public spaces into a welcoming, accessible, and sustainable place for all to enjoy

Boston City Hall Plaza Renovation

City of Boston
Boston, MA
7 acres
Matthew Arielly, Jeremy Bittermann
Civil Engineering
Landscape Architecture
Additional Services
Community Engagement
Interior Design
Planning and Urban Design
Completed 2022

Sasaki, in partnership with Mayor Michelle Wu and the City of Boston, embarked on a renovation of the historic Boston City Hall Plaza. The seven-acre plaza is one of Boston’s largest civic spaces, and for the last 50 years it has hosted large-scale events ranging from sports celebrations and political rallies to seasonal cultural festivals. However, the old plaza was neither an inviting or engaging space; instead it became an inhospitable and inaccessible place that lacked amenities to support everyday uses and smaller events. Its massive open space of fractured brick and stepped elevation change created barriers to mobility, and provided little opportunity for people to sit or enjoy the space.

Sasaki initially responded to the City’s 2015 program “Rethink City Hall” that generated the momentum behind the plaza’s final transformation. The team led a community engagement process and developed the #PlazaPlus campaign to gather public feedback and generate preliminary ideas through on-site visioning sessions and online social media pushes. In October 2017, the city released the Boston City Hall and Plaza Master Planning Study: Rethink City Hall, which was led by Utile and Reed Hilderbrand. The study resulted in a 30-year master plan to address required repairs and to transform the 50-year-old City Hall and Plaza into an innovative, healthy, and efficient civic facility to better serve current and future generations of Bostonians and visitors alike.


Sasaki was engaged by the City for the resulting project that was designed and completed in late 2022. Throughout the early design stages, Sasaki continued the robust community engagement and stakeholder feedback process that began during the master plan,  and used that information to define the four key design principles for the new plaza transformation.  

A welcoming and accessible civic space for people of all ages and abilities

Formerly inaccessible due to the existing stepped elevation change, the new plaza design reconciles the 26-foot vertical difference across the site and connects Congress and Cambridge Streets with an accessible sloped promenade. Now all primary building entrances and main pathways are universally accessible.

From the main plaza, the Hanover walkway slopes gently down to Congress Street, replacing the historic pattern of granite stairs and brick terraces with an accessible route that hints at the site’s original character. Increased tree canopy improves the plaza’s resilience to rising temperatures and intensifying storms while framing views across the open space.

A new destination for families

The project features a 12,000 square-foot playscape offering a unique playground that harkens back to the design of City Hall. Playfully dubbed “Kinder Brutalism” by the design team, the play elements reflect the materiality and history of the building and plaza. Diverse play installations accommodate children with a range of interests and capacities, such as climbing, sliding, balancing, spinning and dramatic play.

A model for sustainability

The management and reuse of rainwater was an important component in making the plaza more sustainable. Over 50% of the rain that falls onto the plaza filters through permeable pavement surfaces and vegetated areas, hydrating plants and replenishing the groundwater. Approximately 35% of the rain is collected into a 10,000 gallon underground tank, which is then pumped back to the surface where it irrigates all the plants on site. The final 45% of the rain that falls onto the plaza’s surface is treated and returned to the city stormwater system, which drains into Boston Harbor.

A renewed architectural legacy connecting City Hall and the community

Originally intended to be a main public entrance to City Hall, the North Entry had been permanently closed since September 11, 2001. Sasaki’s design renovated and reopened this entrance, providing direct public access to City Hall’s services once again. The renovation subtly shifted the lower glass façade outwards, expanding the vestibule to create a new welcoming entrance featuring custom light fixtures and a modern security screening station inside the lobby. Just outside the entrance, visitors will find seating, plantings, sculptures, and bike amenities.

Nestled into the grade between Congress Street and the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) terrace above, a new civic pavilion activates Congress Street, housing gender-inclusive restrooms, mechanical support for the plaza’s interactive water features, and ample room for diverse community programming–both inside as well as atop a roof terrace that opens onto the Cancer Garden of Hope. The 3,300 square foot venue features a glass wall that opens out towards Congress Street, inviting the public to explore the multi-use space.

The updates modernized the historic Plaza with improved infrastructure, sustainability and public spaces while simultaneously honoring its original intentions and history as Boston’s place to gather, celebrate, and make residents’ voices heard.

The Boston City Hall Plaza Renovation project is managed through the City’s Operations Cabinet by the Public Facilities Department in partnership with the Property Management Department and is assisted by owners project manager Skanska USA.

For additional information about the City Hall Plaza Renovation project, visit For more background on the Rethink City Hall Master Planning Study completed in 2017, visit

For more information contact Fiske Crowell or Mauricio Gomez.

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