Working with the City of Boston’s Parks & Recreation department, Sasaki is redesigning Copley Square to better accommodate large events, and to offer a greener, more flexible respite to people passing through the historic Back Bay neighborhood. As the team continues to take in public feedback and engage with the community, Sasaki’s design concept for the iconic plaza evolves.
Framed by some of the city’s most iconic historic buildings, today’s Copley Square balances open lawn and paved plaza space with tree groves, planting and a fountain, and is a much-loved feature of the city. Having served as an urban living room, a host to the weekly Back Bay Farmers Market and one of the city’s most-used event venues for several decades, the square today shows signs of wear: trees are stressed, pavements are uneven and the lawn and fountain are in disrepair. Bostonians recognize that it is time to update this beloved civic amenity to 21st century standards.
Over a robust, three-phase community engagement process the team has heard from over 2,500 voices from all neighborhoods of the city and throughout the region. For some, Copley is a green oasis within a densely developed urban neighborhood. For others, the square is a destination landscape that draws them downtown for cultural and recreational activities. Sasaki understands that enhancing and improving how Copley Square balances these two identities is at the heart of a successful and sustainable future for this important civic space. Above all, Bostonians agree that stewardship and enhancement of Copley’s mature tree canopy should be a top priority of any renovation effort.
Guided by a 16-member steering committee representing a diversity of key stakeholders and engaging the public through community meetings (virtual due to the pandemic) and online surveys, the design team listened deeply to the community’s diverse aspirations, analyzed the site’s opportunities and constraints, posed three conceptual options, and refined feedback into one proposed scheme. The current scheme draws formal inspiration from local cultural and historic connections and utilizes an innovative raised platform to both preserve mature trees and provide views of urban activity and iconic architectural facades. The lawn and the plaza area are flipped, providing a new green at Trinity’s front steps while allowing larger events to spill out across Dartmouth Street. Generous plantings buffer the square from the street and provide an intimate setting for an updated fountain.
Now beginning design development, Sasaki is adjusting the scheme based on feedback and beginning to hone details. Boston Parks and Recreation Department expects the project to break ground in spring 2022 and hopes to open a renewed Copley Square to the public by the summer of 2023.