Below, Above, and Beyond: Abandoned Underground Subway Infrastructures as Urban Form and Experience

This studio aims to propose a near-future scenario for the abandoned underground infrastructures of the subway system of Boston and its vicinity, with a focus on Brattle Tunnel underneath Harvard Square. During the first six weeks, students will look at all of the defunct underground infrastructures owned by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) MBTA to “design” a system in which those decommissioned spaces could operate again, not as a part of the subway network, but with particular themes that would suggest a new type of public space in the era of climate change. Then, in the second half, students will focus on Brattle Tunnel, within their own designed networks.

The Boston and Cambridge subway system is the oldest in the US, and its history is fundamentally related to urban growth and the shaping of the citizens' everyday lives. Since the subway’s first test run between Park St. Station and Harvard Sq. in 1910, “commutability” between Cambridge and its neighboring towns increased, affecting the settlement patterns and housing regulations of the towns. However, the evolution of the city also made some of infrastructures decommissioned, and now there are a number of such spaces underneath very prime urban locations, which invite us to imagine our future leveraged by them. Can we reveal them to operate once again, but this time as a new urban form and experience to help us live better lives in the era of climate change?

In Part 1, each pair of students will work to propose a network with its own theme, such as hydrology, subsoil, new consumption culture, cultural venue, emergency handling, wild life, and climate control. Although the focus will be on these underground spaces, you must clearly aim to find the relation between “the below” and “the above,” and what lies "beyond." The purpose of the Part 1 is to understand the individual abandoned spaces in a holistic view, and to configure a potential system that can provide a new role and value to those spaces. Lectures and workshops with guests will help students create speculative proposals that are also realistic.   After the mid-review, students will work individually (or choose to continue to work in pairs) and focus on Brattle Tunnel to revitalize the 430 ft long tunnel in the networks proposed in Part 1. It is crucial to look at the tunnel as part of a holistic physical context that consists of the web of open spaces, rivers, drainage systems, roads, groundwater, soil, subsoil, and air. The genuine charm of the empty tunnel and its spatial implications in relation to the Charles River and other surrounding landscapes will provide students with an opportunity to reimagine the way in which the public occupies and experiences the tight-knit fabric of Harvard Square.

This is an intense design studio. Your accumulated composite body of knowledge, not only from the studios but also from other classes and outside experience, will need to be brought into the design process. The studio must collectively pursue a high level of specificity in its plans and sections. The studio is open to students in all GSD degree programs, although landscape architectural approaches will be asked throughout the semester (i.e., capability of working with various scales, material exploration, vision for public space in the context of Boston/Cambridge, and climate change adaptation).