by Danna Day
When designed properly, streets and outdoor public spaces can provide a setting for social interactions that make a place inviting, interesting, and aesthetically pleasing. Understanding factors such as accessibility, human scale, user needs, and pedestrian amenities is imperative when designing urban landscapes, as these spaces should be designed with the user in mind. The recently completed Phase 1 of the new mixed-use Assembly Row development in Somerville, Mass. is an excellent example of how outdoor spaces — streetscapes, plazas, parks, and playgrounds — all play a role in attracting and engaging people of diverse ages and backgrounds.
Assembly Row is a new modern-day urban village located just outside of Boston where people can live, eat, shop, work, and play in a pedestrian, ecofriendly environment accessible by the recently opened Assembly MBTA Orange Line station. The new development offers premium retail outlets, first-class restaurants, residential buildings, state-of-the-art office and research development space, a cinema, and a hotel.
During Phase 1 of the project, Copley Wolff Design Group (CWDG) collaborated with Federal Realty Investment Trust and the project team on the design of the pedestrian environment and public spaces within this new urban village. CWDG’s scope of work in this phase includes streetscapes, plantings, a large plaza, and the redeveloped 6-acre Baxter Riverfront Park on the Mystic River. Since the opening of Assembly Row, the CWDG-designed plaza located between Block 1 and Block 2 has become a highly visited outdoor great room for gathering, enjoying a cup of coffee, or reading a book. The space is composed of unique materials including pavers, wood decking, soft furnishing, salvaged granite, and seat walls that provide a fully accessible, functioning space. Ornamental planters, low-maintenance evergreen and seasonal plants, artwork, lighting, and furnishing complete the space. To enhance usability of the area in all seasons, large shade trees are located at seating areas to provide shade on hot, sunny days.
The redeveloped Baxter Riverfront Park, also designed by Copley Wolff Design Group, includes an amphitheater, walking and biking trails, open green space, and a playground. Since its opening earlier in the summer of 2014, the park has been an inviting and well-used gathering space for free yoga, running clubs, boating, kids’ activities, outdoor movies, craft fairs, live music, and other large festivals.
All of these outdoor spaces have played a significant role not only in attracting people to Assembly Row, but engaging them with well-planned and thoughtful design. From sunrise to sundown, the playground is never without children on the play structure, going down the slides, or cooling down at the spitting frogs; the waterfront is always full of people; and hundreds of people are regularly seen milling about the streets and plaza, taking advantage of the new restaurants, movie theater, Legoland Discovery Center, and popular retail outlets.
On the heels of the successful Phase 1, Copley Wolff Design Group is currently providing landscape architectural design services for Phase 2, which will include two additional blocks of retail, restaurant, residential, and office. CWDG’s scope of work will contain the popular streetscape treatment, as well as an additional urban park to complement the already successful plaza.
Danna Day is the director of marketing at Copley Wolff Design Group Landscape Architects & Planners of Boston.