JACKSON SQUARE STATION, BOSTON, MA

Local protest over neighborhood demolition halted the construction of Interstate 95 into Boston in 1972. However, a strip of land through Roxbury was already cleared and this became the right of way for the Southwest Corridor, which included the relocated MBTA Orange Line, Amtrak’s Northeast Service, and a linear park. Jackson Square would become a new station on the line at the intersection of Columbus Avenue and Center Street in Jamaica Plain. The original design of an eight lane interstate highway with the Orange Line in the median was replaced with a new route for the Orange Line (relocated to the west from the old elevated tracks above Washington Street) and three tracks for Commuter Rail and Amtrak service into the city. To learn more click here.

“It was devastated,” said Tony Pangaro, an architect and urban planner, describing the Southwest Corridor when he took on the job of development coordinator. “The houses were barely able to hold themselves up.  There were clearings that looked like Berlin after the war.”

Jane Holtz Kay, October 15, 1988, New York Times

We have already discussed the how the rampant inflation of the 1970s affected building projects, stopping many of them. Work for architects had slowed considerably and the firm was looking to the public sector for opportunities. Assembling a team for the station that included the transportation engineering firm Fredric R. Harris and associated architects, Turner Associates, P.C., the firm worked alongside 22 firms of architects and engineers to envision, along with the neighborhoods, the various stations and the linear park. The project was divided into three sections of three stations each under the overall direction of Tony Pangaro, who now heads Millennium Partners. Don Stull of Stull and Lee was the coordinating architect and his firm also designed the Forest Hills Station.

Having saved their neighborhood from the interstate highway, the stakeholders were heavily involved in healing the scar of the demolition.  Each station had a Station Area Task Force that worked with the architects, engineers, and landscape architects to plan the stations.  A key design goal was to tie the stations and green spaces into the communities. The line was conceived as partially open and partially covered, with the tracks depressed below street level. Frameworks for signage, grating, platforms, and the requirement for durable materials controlled some of the design decisions, but insured consistency along the line.

Jackson Square

Left: Signage, floor and ceiling materials, and lighting were consistent among the Orange Line stations.  Right: Two-story space with overlook for the station lobby

The Jackson Square Station was to be a block-long covered section of the tracks identified as multi-modal; it would include drop-off and pick-up bays for neighborhood bus routes. The design idea is a simple one of a large broad roof plane spanning the tracks and bus stalls. The plane is strategically folded at the street level lobby, raising the ceiling to allow a southeast facing clerestory to draw light into the station while also signaling the entry on Centre Street. Linear skylights illuminate both the subway and bus platforms. The lobby is located above the commuter rail tracks, which are encased in a tunnel so they can maintain their speed on the way into South Station. This lower section is designed like a boat, with waterproofing on the outside to prevent the high water table from flooding the tracks.

Section

The project entered the office in 1976 and the design would be refined over the next several years, coordinating with the designs developing for other stations along the line. Construction Documents were finished in the early 1980s and were put out to bid. All of the stations needed to be complete before the line could open, so construction was a drawn out process. Almost thirty years ago this month, the old elevated Washington Street Orange Line stopped operating and on May 4, 1987 the trains were switched to run in the new corridor from Chinatown to Forest Hills.

THE STATION ART

The MBTA has long had a program for integrating public art into the stations and the new Orange Line stations offered a clean palette for expansion of their collection.  Details about the MBTA public art collection can be seen here.  The artist for each new station was chosen jointly by the community and the design team.  For Jackson Square, artist James Toatley was chosen.  He developed the concept for “Faces in the Crowd.” Unfortunately, Jim passed away shortly after receiving the commission and the project was picked up and completed by his wife, Linda.

Photo courtesy of the MBTA arts website

In 2004, a renewal project provided the station with murals as well as better lighting and new sidewalks. Designed to improve the atmosphere for transit riders and give the community more ownership of the station, Jamaica Plain and Roxbury neighborhood youth worked with internationally known muralist/artist Roberto Chao to create some new works for the station. The art on the walls and on columns located outside the station celebrate the rich multi-culturalism of the Hyde Park/Jackson Square area, one of Boston’s most diverse neighborhoods.

Muralist Robert Chao

Photo courtesy of the MBTA arts website

As the station sits adjacent to the Bromley Heath Housing project, an effort was made to better integrate the housing with the community and the station. The landscape engages the Bromley Heath Community Center by adding green space, playground, community gardens, amphitheater, and tennis and basketball courts. The Southwest Corridor trail crosses the site on its way out to Forest Hills. The precinct plan also created a couple of development sites (Parcel 35 and 71) for future use, the largest adjacent to the bus drop off.

Jackson Square Site Plan

It has taken many years, but the development of Parcel 35 was completed this year. It is a $50 million dollar transit-oriented mixed-use development delivering 103 rental apartment units, including 35 affordable units, and over 16,000 square feet of commercial/retail space. It was developed by Community Builders and Mitchell Properties and designed by our friends at ADD Inc.

Aerial of Jackson Square Station, Parcel 35

Jackson Square today showing the new development

LOOKING BACK

In researching the project I came across this quote from David Lee, who was heavily involved in the Southwest Corridor project as a Principal at Stull and Lee, the coordinating architects. He was participating in a session for the Boston Society of Architects for Architecture Boston magazine looking back at the project.

“Quickly, a new planning paradigm emerged. This was not a transportation project principally governed by engineering expediency. This was something new; this was a community development project with a transportation component. Once everyone began to view the project through that lens, land-use planning, landscape architecture, and urban-design considerations gained equal footing. This was reinforced by the MBTA’s Southwest Corridor Project office, which managed one of the most elaborate community participation efforts in the history of the state.”

David Lee, Winter 2012 Architecture Boston

For me, this sums up the lesson to be learned here. More than being about one station, one community, or a transportation project, this is about the sum being greater than the parts. It was an incredible collaboration of communities and planners, architects and engineers. That we are now seeing some of these development sites being successfully filled in, even many years later, gives credence to the vision of “people before highways.” More than the legacy of the architecture, it is about our participation in this transformative experience for the community.