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American Society of Landscape Architects


May 2004 Issue

Perennial Abstraction
A new planting design for Bostonís Christian Science Church achieves seasonal change without seasonal replanting.

By Gina Crandell

Perennial Abstraction
Photo by Alan Ward

Itís hard now to imagine the network of streets and four-story row houses that were tightly packed around Bostonís First Christian Science Church before the hand of modernism cleared 30 acres for the monumental Christian Science Plaza we know today. Nearly four decades have passed since that redevelopment, and today the Christian Science Church continues to support design excellence and civic space, as evidenced by the recent "Seasonal Plantings" project and the Mary Baker Eddy Library Entry Courtyard by Reed Hilderbrand Associates.

The Christian Science Plaza was one of a series of large-scale redevelopments in Boston. Although the city grew robustly throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Boston was less than well designed during most of the twentieth century. It was in a recession from 1921 until 1950 when its population peaked. During the next four decades, nearly 30 percent of its residents left for a new house and yard in a distant suburb. Boston was most accommodating: It built highways to help people get out. In the 1950s, the elevated Central Artery and Storrow Drive were built, the latter destroying the Charles River Esplanade and Olmstedís Charlesbank Park. In 1966, the Charlesgate entrance to Olmstedís Back Bay Fens was obliterated with elevated highway ramps.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority, established in 1957, defined redevelopment on a massive scale and advocated a complete break with the traditional fabric of Boston, beginning with its infamous destruction of the 48 acres that made up the West End neighborhood. In the late 1960s, Scollay Square was replaced by the Government Center brickyard, and the Prudential Center turned away from the city when it was built as a self-contained entity. The Christian Science Center followed suit shortly thereafter. Though privately owned, the plaza graciously invited the public in by maintaining its street grade and by providing grand amenities. Of this wave of large-scale redevelopment, it remains the most successful, especially in a Boston whose city life has been making a comeback since the 1980s.

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