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Rock Chapel Marine

Landing Studio

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2017 AIA Institute Honor Award Winner in Regional & Urban Design

The conversion of postindustrial space to recreational use is nothing new, but what about creating park space on a site that’s still actively industrial? Just across the Mystic River from Boston, the city of Chelsea, Mass., is still very much a working town, with storage and shipping facilities lining the waterfront. The decommissioning of massive oil tanks posed both an opportunity and a problem: How do you put the space to public use while a vast road salt distribution center still operates next door?

Rather than airbrushing the hard edges of the site, Sommerville, Mass.–based Landing Studio’s solution for Rock Chapel Marine took a pluralist tack, interweaving the original functional features with new public space to create new and cohesive synthesis. The salt piles, secured under containment covers, now act both as surge barriers and as dramatic landscape features onto which light installations can be projected at night. The skeletons of the old oil drums have been left in place—sculptural elements to which lighting for the recreation areas has been mounted. Even an old tugboat has been pressed back into service, moored to the site for use as a guard tower for the salt supplies.

Rock Chapel Marine (named for Rockchapel, Ireland, the ancestral home of the family behind Eastern Salt Co., which owns the site) changes with the seasons—the size of the salt piles grows in winter and shrinks in spring, letting the site return to parkland. Not just a triumph of physical logistics, the project also represents a bureaucratic victory: a privately owned, publicly accessible park that overcame regulatory hurdles to provide needed community space.

Project Credits
Project: Rock Chapel Marine, Chelsea, Mass.
Client: Eastern Salt Co. Architect: Landing Studio, Somerville, Mass. . Daniel Adams, Marie Law Adams, AIA
M/E/Structural Engineer: BuroHappold Engineering
Civil Engineer: Nitsch Engineering
Geotechnical/Environmental Engineer: Haley & Aldrich
General Contractor: Tocci Building Cos. Cost Estimator: Daedulus Projects
Demolition Contractor: Testa Corp.
Hazardous Materials Survey Engineer: Axiom Partners
Maritime Infrastructure Engineer: Childs Engineering Corp.
Solar PV Contractor: SunBug Solar

Consultant: Kalin Associates, Architectural Specifications
Size: 12 acres
Cost: Withheld

To see the rest of ARCHITECT's coverage of the 2017 AIA Institute Honor Awards, click here.

From the February, 2013, issue of ARCHITECT:

Community Projects
2013 P/A Awards
Landing Studio

Site A former 13-million-gallon oil tank farm on the bank of Chelsea Creek, in Chelsea, Mass., at the northern end of Boston Harbor.

Program A shared-use infrastructure combining a distribution center for road salt with public park and seasonally expandable recreation facilities that include an amphitheater, a “play dome,” and a platform for viewing barges.

Solution Chelsea is the second-densest municipality in Massachusetts—it’s also home to both the largest concentration of industry and the least amount of public space. With Rock Chapel Marine, the design team at Landing Studio sought to reconcile those factors by turning industry into public amenity for Chelsea’s inhabitants. Starting with the removal of the oil tank farm, the master plan transforms the port city’s industrial area into an urban playground with waterfront views.

But the project appealed to the jury members because it wasn’t just another brownfield conversion: “Plural infrastructure is really what it’s about,” juror Reed Kroloff said. “It doesn’t say it’s a collection of salt piles that we are now converting into a greenway. It’s still salt piles.” These salt piles at the still-active road salt distribution terminal will gain containment covers, allowing them to function as dynamic storm surge barriers that shift in scale according to the seasonal demand for salt, and also as backdrops for artistic light projections. Structure from the steel oil drums is retained and reused as support for lighting within the recreation areas of the site, and an old tugboat is repurposed as a security tower for the salt plant’s operations.

The end result of Rock Chapel Marine will be the conversion of an industrial wasteland into a community gathering area, with the skeletons of oil drums framing views into the harbor through the once-blighted site. “I think one of the appeals of the project is its multifaceted—instead of absolutist—solution,” juror Steven Ehr­lich said. “We’ll see that problem arising more and more.” In Chelsea, the hope is that although industry may carry on, citizens will see it less as a blight than as an opportunity for fun.

Project Description


An innovative solution to issues that arise when contemporary waterfront development collides with regulations aimed at protecting marine industrial uses, this project balances industry, recreation, and wildlife habitat. Embracing a both/and ethos rather than a conventional either/or development pattern, Rock Chapel Marine is the redevelopment of a shuttered oil terminal into a road salt transshipment facility and waterfront park in a community attuned to issues of environmental justice. Located in Chelsea, Massachusetts, a densely packed pocket of industry and residences in Boston Harbor, the project has brought much-needed green space in the form of the first park in decades on the town’s working waterfront. To intertwine industrial operations with the life of the city, Rock Chapel Marine capitalizes on the seasonal nature of the road salt industry. In summer, when the industry is less active, the park area is increased, while in winter the shared space reverts to industrial use. Developed privately and operated by the Eastern Salt Company in conjunction with community groups and local officials, the development of Rock Chapel Marine involved untangling conflicts between state and local regulations which required several years of outreach and coordinated planning efforts led by the design team. The process resulted not only in improvements to the project but also the birth of a memorandum of agreement between city and industry that details best practices for improving industrial operations in an urban context. The site, historically a filled tideland occupied for more than 50 years by massive oil tanks, required clean soil and paving to protect it from the decades of industrial use. Native plant cover and hundreds of new trees were introduced in both the park and industrial areas, while vine plantings cover street-facing fencing in the industrial zone and provide a living screen as an alternative to typical fencing. By harnessing design of industry, a domain not regularly found in the portfolio of architects and urban designers, Rock Chapel Marine represents a new form of deep engagement between community and industry.
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