In 2015, Mayor Martin Walsh announced his vision to reimagine City Hall Plaza— and that vision is now becoming a reality. Global design firm Sasaki has been hired to create the design for the Plaza, which will be revamped in different phases in hopes of transforming the space into a place for all residents to engage in a new civic space. City Hall is now 50 years old, and Mayor Walsh envisions the future of the plaza as a place for people to gather in a fun, welcoming, and accessible way.
Phase One of the project is currently in the beginning of a design documentation phase, and will transform the wide open space of the Plaza into separate function spaces that will be universally accessible. The redesign will be based on four pillars: becoming Boston’s Welcoming Front Yard for Civic Life with new spaces and terraces, Boston’s Most Flexible and Accommodating Event Venue with new plug and play locations for events, Boston’s Model of Sustainability and Resilience with an increase in permeable surfaces and new trees, and A Renewed Cultural and Architectural Legacy with homages to the original design of the City Hall building.
Right now, the plaza holds 40,000 people for an event, but the design team and the city are envisioning having different sections for events with different numbers of people. They are hoping to also create a playscape area that will integrate the brick features that are a part of the original design of City Hall, meant to connect people with their government.
On Congress Street will be the Hanover Promenade, which will feature the playscape and a waterfall made with the granite steps that will be removed to create a more universally accessible plaza. The north entry, which was closed due to security concerns after Sept. 11, 2001, will be reopened and reimagined with the glass being extended to create room for a brand new security system. There will also be a civic pavilion building adjacent to the MBTA vent structure with an overlook on the top. The pavilion building will include restrooms, a meeting room, and a gallery space.
The main plaza will be able to hold 10,000-12,000 people, and there will be a smaller stage area for smaller events, as well as a revamped speaker’s corner for the Mayor. There will be several opportunities for public art and over 3,000 new places to sit throughout the plaza, as well as seven “plug and play” locations for events to provide easy access to electricity and water. Over 100 new trees will be planted, and over 50 lights will be replaced with LED technology.
“It’s been about understanding the historic legacy of the plaza,” Kate Tooke, a landscape architect with Sasaki, told reporters on Monday. She said the hope is connecting Bostonians to City Hall through bricks sidewalks, and “ preserving the integrity of the original design but updating it.”
“The Mayor wanted to have a place where people felt comfortable and welcomed,” said Patrick Brophy, Chief of Operations for the City of Boston. The city hopes that the space will provide a reason for people to come to City Hall, with activation of the space through things like yoga, the playscape, or just a place to read book, he said.
“Accessibility the main driver; you have to be able to travel through,” Brophy said. “Making it accessible to everyone is very, very important.”
He said they have learned lessons about infrastructure from the smaller activation pieces they have piloted on the plaza in the past, such as Boston Pride, the pizza fest, beer garden patios, and other events.
“The plaza is broken up based on the comfort level of humans,” Tooke said, adding that it people can “feel a little bit too small as a human being in the plaza the way it is currently designed.”
The adaptability of the proposed space “allows us to be more efficient with the way we move in and out of there,” Brophy said.
Brophy said that they are looking to commence work on the utilities portion of Phase One in late fall or early winter, and begin the redesign int he summer of next year. He said that they have also had conversations with the original architect of the building, who is “very supportive of the things we’re doing now,” Brophy said.
“Boston’s City Hall Plaza is a space visited by thousands of Boston residents each and every day,” Mayor Walsh said in a press release. “This renovation will turn our seven-acre space into a welcoming, accessible space for all, featuring new civic spaces for events to areas for families to enjoy together. Creating a new People’s Plaza will help us achieve our goals of making one of Boston’s most-used public spaces better for all residents.”