2013 P/A Awards
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 DescriptionFROM THE AIA:
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.