BLC Approves Changes at Gibson House, Boston Common Art Installation

The Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) on August 24 approved the installation of a concrete rat slab in the coal shed at the Gibson House on Beacon St., as well as a temporary art installation for the Boston Common.

Gibson House

Applicant Jackie Blombach explained that the coal shed at the Gibson House has been affected by rats burrowing in the ground, and they are asking to pour a concrete slab in the coal bin to prevent the rats from burrowing there. Additionally, they are asking to repair the fence in the rear, which will be reviewed by the Back Bay Architectural Commission.

There is still some coal left in the shed, which would be removed to pour the slab, and then new coal would be placed on top of it, Blombach said.

She said that earlier in the year, the burrows were plugged with mesh, but the rats just created new burrows around the mesh so that was not a permanent solution.

Additionally, the team has discovered that bricks have been lifted in the yard, and sink down when stepped on. Blombach said that no trash is left outside or in the coal shed, and after speaking with Absolute Pest, an exterminator, she said they recommended pouring the concrete slab, “which will provide long-term pest control,” she said.

“The rat slab and the fence project is expensive and a financial hardship for the museum,” Blombach said, adding that it is “vitally important…”

The concrete slab will not be visible, as it will be laid under several inches of new coal, she added.

Commissioner David Berarducci said that “if it’s going to solve the problem” and will not take away from the “look of this historic coal shed,” he said the slab should be poured.

Commissioner Brad Walker said that a “decoupling membrane” needs to be installed between the concrete and the historic wood to ensure that the slab does not bond to the wood and could come out if necessary,

The full BLC voted to approve this proposal with that proviso.

Boston Common Temporary Art Installation

Friends of the Public Garden President Liz Vizza said that as part of the organization’s 50th Anniversary celebration, it is working with public art curator Now + There and artist Janet Zweig to create a temporary art installation on the Boston Common from September 22 to October 22.

Polina Starobinets, a project manager at Now + There, talked a little bit about the art project. She said that when Zweig was doing research about the Common, “one of the things she focused on” was the fact the Boston Common is the oldest public park in the United States.

She wanted to “pose rhetorical questions to the park-goers,” Starobinets said, and the project is titled “What Do We Have in Common?”

The installation features 200 boxes made of wood, metal, and acrylic that will be lit by a battery powered light and installed in the ground in different locations throughout the park. Each box is eight by twelve by three inches, “only a little bit smaller than a standard shoebox,” Starobinets said, 166 of which will feature a different question like “who owns the internet?” The remaining 34 boxes will have some of the questions repeated in other languages.

These boxes will required anchoring in the ground for one month, and the holes will be hand-dug. Concrete cylinders with pre-drilled holes will be installed, only in places where the soil has been “previously disturbed,” she said. The soil will also be saved and replaced once the installation is removed in late October.

Additionally, there will be an eight foot cabinet that will feature “free books on the subject of the ‘commons,’” according to a slide. The cabinet will be located opposite the Earl of Sandwich, and there will also be descriptive signage in that area that will be staked to the ground. A staff member will be at the cabinet every day for the entirety of the installation to give books to people who request them. Books will not be accessible to the public without the help of the staff member.

Commissioner David Berarducci asked why this location was chosen for the cabinet.

Starobinets said that they were “advised by the Friends” to use this location, and “we do really like this spot.” She said it gets “intersection of traffic from all different areas of the park,” and is not an area known for a specific purpose such as the off leash dog area.

When people receive a book from the cabinet, they are free to keep it; it does not have to be returned to the cabinet. The signage will explain how the cabinet and the art installation works, she added.

Starobinets said that the artist is “designing this piece to be freestanding and non-intrusive,” and will be accessible for people in a wheelchair as well as people who are visually impaired with audio information accessible via a QR code. There will also be books in Braille and audiobooks available in the cabinet.

The cabinet will be located “towards the intersection of Beacon and Charles,” she said.

There were several other questions raised by the Commission that were addressed by the team as it relates to the  accessibility of the installation.

The Commission voted to approve this proposal as it was presented with the proviso that City Archaeologist Joe Bagley continue to work with the team to approve the final locations for the boxes.

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