February 29, 2016
By Dennis Nealon
More than a century after famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead designed the Emerald Necklace park system in Boston, a group of Wentworth Institute of Technology students is finding itself in the position of helping to make his vision a reality.
With Ilyas Bhatti, the Douglas C. Elder Professor, Department of Construction Management, the students are collaborating with the state Department of Transportation to transform the Bowker Overpass and Charlesgate Bridge area in Boston, and finally blend the site into Olmstead’s necklace. That parks project by the father of American landscape architecture has not been completely finished; the Bowker Overpass and Charlesgate Bridge are in one of the last remaining pieces of the chain in the Muddy River area and near Kenmore Square.
The project, which also includes input from Northeastern University, falls under the Institute’s EPIC initiative—short for externally collaborative, project-based, interdisciplinary culture for learning.
With his creative partner, Calvert Vaux, Olmstead co-designed iconic green spaces in the United States, including Central Park and Prospect Park in New York City, and Elm Park in Worcester, Mass., considered by many to be the first municipal park in America.
His vision also encompassed the city of Boston and construction of a100-acre chain of parks—from Boston Common to Franklin Park— linked by parkways and waterways in Boston and Brookline, Mass. The idea was to offer a wooded area for recreation, improve air quality, and foster an ecosystem for nesting and migratory birds.
The state has asked Wentworth students to come up with a new design that would include removing the Bowker overpass and, “re-knitting the urban fabric including water, greenspace, and road and pathway construction.” State officials have requested a reconstruction plan and schedule from conceptual to full reconstruction, accounting for permitting, mitigations, and staging.
Students at Northeastern University will be working on traffic reconfiguration concepts for the area, according to Bhatti.
“This is a fully loaded challenge for us,” he said. “But it is also a tremendous opportunity for our students. They are the idea creators, with full freedom of expression and no real design constraints.”
He said the project will require at least two or three semesters’ work, and likely involve about 12 or more Wentworth students from several academic disciplines, including architecture, construction management, civil engineering and, perhaps, business management.
“If there is anything that really defines the classic interdisciplinary approach, then it is this project,” Bhatti said.
The overall EPIC initiative, an integral part of the undergraduate experience at Wentworth, was born of the Institute’s determination to empower, inspire and innovate through experiential learning. A principal goal is fostering career success for students, which, in today’s economy, depends largely on the ability to work collaboratively with others from different disciplines and organizations.
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