Fantasy Places • Imaginations compete to create the ultimate in public
spaces and assure a city that cutting-edge design is in its future
written by regina cole
hat if Le Corbusier’s Radiant City was turned
upside down in Boston Harbor? The flat top
would become a Bostonian Central Park,
These were two of the 141 entries submitted
to SHIFTboston’s design competition 2009, which
challenged architects, artists, landscape architects,
urban designers, and engineers to propose inno-
vative design/build projects that “enhance and
electrify the urban experience in Boston.”
“This was an ideas competition rather than
a design competition, but even the most futuris-
tic schemes were possible to imagine,” says Brian
Healy, the Boston-area architect who chaired the seven-member
jury who chose the winner.
For this, its first competition, SHIFTboston, an independent
organization that seeks to provide a forum for visionaries, asked
the question: “What if this could happen in Boston?”
“The fact that we got this kind of response shows that peo-
ple are excited to share their ideas,” says Kim Poliquin, who, with
Dunja Vujinic, founded SHIFTboston after the two architects
were laid off in December 2008. “There are a lot of unemployed
professionals out there,” she adds, “as well as lots of people unful-
filled in their work. This gave them a chance to innovate, to work
on something exciting and meaningful.”
in the winning design, an abandoned subway tunnel is converted to an underground
theater and patrons travel to performances on the old rails via streetcars named Desire.
The fantastical Upside Down Radiant City entry (below) was a runner-up.
Entries came from 16 U.S. states and 14 other countries;
some of them were presented to a capacity crowd of design professionals, city officials, academics, and curious civilians at the
Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston earlier this year.
One entry imagined the slot in the John Hancock tower as
a free-fall amusement-park ride. Another converted Fort Point
Channel into a light show. One scheme projected moving aquarium images onto the walls of the Big Dig’s O’Neill Tunnel, while
still another had the Dorchester Bay Technical Academy for Wind
and Water Resources on the site of Bayside Exposition Center.
The winning design, submitted by Sapir Ng, an associate at
Boston architecture firm Tsoi/Kobus & Associates (TK&A), and
Andrzej Zarzycki, a former TK&A architect who is now an assistant professor at New Jersey Institute of Technology, turns the
abandoned Tremont Street subway tunnel into an underground
theater. “For a long time I had seen the tunnel, and was curious,” says Ng. “We learned that stretch was the first subway line
in America, running from Scollay Square down Tremont Street.
We decided a theater was the most appropriate use of the space
because theaters don’t require windows. And,” he adds, “the tunnel is under the theater district.” It would be easy, he says, to
connect the tunnel with above-ground theater lobbies or create a
pedestrian connection to the T.
This practical spirit will inform the next SHIFTboston competition. “We will work with the city to design something that
could actually be built,” says Poliquin. “After the excitement of
our first time, we will definitely continue to do competitions. We
want to help Boston reaffirm its role as an innovative city.”