Room to Grow Greener: Q&A with Copley Wolff

| January 24, 2019

Copley Wolff Design Group recently joined the Boston Water and Sewer Commission, Nitsch Engineering, and Recover Green Roofs at Architecture Boston Expo (ABX) to discuss green infrastructure’s role in meeting the city’s goals and protecting Greater Boston from the risks of climate change. Read on below for takeaways and examples. 

HP interviewed Christine Wilson and Becky Rupel of Copley Wolff on the importance of a holistic, nature-based approach to urban infill projects and how we can overcome our own hurdles and expand the implementation of green infrastructure in Boston.

How is Copley Wolff Design Group contributing to Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s Imagine Boston 2030 plan?

Our environmentally conscious design approach dovetails with Mayor Walsh’s vision for increased open space, a more robust urban forest, climate change mitigation, and resiliency. As landscape architects, we mold topography and integrate trees and planting beds into the built environment. We introduce porous pavement, bioswales, and constructed wetlands to minimize inland and coastal flooding. We also design living shorelines and vegetated dunes along the coast to reduce wave action during storms. All these strategies create attractive public space for outdoor recreation, as well as improve walkability, enhance wildlife habitat, and enrich peoples’ health and well-being.

 What are the benefits of green infrastructure?

Integrating green infrastructure into the urban environment can reduce a city’s contribution to climate change and alleviate economic loss/susceptibility to climate-related flooding while improving residents’ quality of life. Our designs help combat urban air pollution by using plant material to absorb carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and also mitigate excessive temperatures by replacing heat-retaining hardscape with softscape, thereby reducing incidents of heat-related illness and the demand for air conditioning.

Not all our project sites allow for great expanses of open space, necessitating creativity to form nodes of nature between and on top of buildings. We enjoy the puzzle of finding and designing these moments: green roofs, pocket parks, and landscaped streets, which make a city more livable and durable.

How is has Copley Wolff incorporated biophilia into completed or current projects?

Biophilia is humans’ innate desire to be around nature, a concept introduced by E. O. Wilson in 1984. We conscientiously weave natural materials, such as trees, plants, salvaged stone, and water, into social spaces and areas of human activity, not just for beautification, but because it makes the city a more comfortable and restorative place to live.

For example, we locate seating under tree canopies and adjacent to planting beds, lead vines up fencing and other vertical structures, and restore vegetated spaces previously paved over. Introducing and enhancing green features in the urban environment directly correlates with improved emotional, cognitive, and physical well-being.

How does green infrastructure protect us from flooding and improve water quality?

As an alternative to conventional or gray stormwater drainage infrastructure (catch basins, pipes, pumps, and other metal and concrete elements), green infrastructure capitalizes on plants and soil material to mimic the natural water cycle. It slows and retains stormwater onsite, minimizing the frequency, intensity, and volume of water entering the gray infrastructure system. This allows stormwater to infiltrate into the groundwater table, while vegetation and soils filter pollutants, improving water quality.

Any examples?

At 150 Second Street in Cambridge, Mass., and Assembly Row’s Baxter Riverfront Park in Somerville Mass., Copley Wolff Design Group located and designed planting beds so that stormwater flows across the adjacent hardscape into the beds where the water can naturally soak in or evaporate.


At Watermark Seaport in Boston’s Seaport, Copley Wolff Design Group designed the urban streetscape with pervious pavers to filter rainwater back into the earth. The street trees also use captured roof runoff stored in a large underground cistern.


At 35 Cambridge Park Drive, Copley Wolff Design Group collaborated with the architect and civil engineer to manage all stormwater through bioretention basins, rain gardens, permeable pavements, subgrade retention tanks, and softscape.


At UMass Amherst, Copley Wolff Design Group designed a courtyard, adjacent pond, and the university’s first inhabitable green roof to support the building’s sustainable water management system. Rain gardens mitigate surface run-off. Native plants and emergent wetland vegetation improve the health of the pond and create wildlife habitats. The green roof is planted with hardy native plants that can withstand extreme temperatures. The roof can be used as a teaching tool for the campus, reduces the heat island effect and glare, absorbs CO2, and retains storm water. The vegetation protects the roof membrane from the elements and will extend the life expectancy of the membrane and lead to lower life cycle costs.


At the University of Connecticut (UConn), Copley Wolff Design Group repositioned former parking areas with porous pavement and bio-retention swales to create an effective storm water management system that artificially recreates terrestrial forests/meadow ecosystems, prevents runoff, and removes harmful pollutants.










At North Shore Community College, Copley Wolff Design Group designed a new quadrangle and accessible walkways, collaboration for filtration and bioretention basins, walkway canopies supporting photo voltaic (PV) panels, a green roof, and planting areas around geothermal wells.


At UMass Biolab, one of the most technologically advanced and sustainable biotech buildings in the commonwealth, Copley Wolff Design Group incorporated existing tree specimens into a site plan for the 36,300sf building and parking lot. The site’s master plan called for the installation of rain gardens, the utilization of recaptured rainwater, and the incorporation of recycled onsite materials to help turn this former brownfield into a LEED-certified building with environmentally sensitive landscaping.


Becky Rupel

Christine Wilson










(l-r) Becky Rupel, ASLA, PLA, SITES AP, and Christine Wilson, ASLA, PLA, SITES AP, are landscape
architects at Copley Wolff Design Group.


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Category: All, Contributor, Green

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