The Roxbury Love Project: Intern Charrette 2017

Keeping with tradition, a team of twelve interns began their summers at Sasaki with an intensive immersion into the interdisciplinary design approach we cultivate within our studios. The formal kickoff of Sasaki’s annual summer internship is a two-week-long charrette, which asks the cohort of urban designers, landscape architects, architects, engineers, planners, and marketers, to work together on a real-world design challenge.

And this year was the most ambitious charrette yet: we invited our interns to collaborate with the community in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood to generate affordable and implementable placemaking ideas that connect and integrate living, working, and promoting the arts within the Roxbury Cul­tural District.

Roxbury, and Dudley Square in particular, is an area of the city Sasaki knows well, having worked closely with Mecanoo on the design of the Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building, which opened its doors as the new central headquarters of Boston Public Schools in 2015. More recently, Sasaki worked with residents, artists, and community groups in Roxbury to support its designation as a cultural district by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Upon our return to Dudley Square this summer, the team of young aspiring designers looked beyond any one building to examine the vast potential for the cultural district to flourish with the collective leadership and input of its existing community ecosystem.

With only two weeks to prepare for the final presentation, the group wasted no time. They first divided into three groups: Placemaking, Working/Showing, and Housing/Living and took a field trip into Boston to check out precedent sites that could inform their design process, as well as locations in the heart of Roxbury’s Dudley Square, the focal point of the project. While each group focused on a specific area, the whole team collaborated closely to accomplish their main goals for the charrette:

- To celebrate the Cultural District of Roxbury by identifying its cultural and physical assets and connecting them through people, infrastructure, culture, histo­ry, businesses, and institutions;

- To make places for people to create art, foster community, and build connections;

- And to encourage Dudley Square to be seen and utilized as the unifying cultural heart of Roxbury.

Through research into precedents; rapid ideation; and consultation with local artists, makers, business owners, and producers, the three groups were able to generate recommendations that would creatively enhance existing conditions while speaking to the real concerns and aspirations of the district’s community. Recommendations ranged from new prototypes for affordable artist residences to urban design approaches for creating active, pedestrian-friendly streetscapes along many of the district’s main boulevards.

Placemaking: This group was tasked with cultivating a sense of place for the district by knitting together the neighborhood’s rich arts and cultural assets. After visiting the SoWa Art and Design District, the Placemaking team was motivated to create toolkits for programming related to arts, greening, community, and events. The interns saw opportunities to create arts plazas, sculpture parks, pop-up art installations, and community gathering spaces filled with locally-produced art. Greening programming would increase access to com­munity garden space, urban forests, as well as urban farms. Community programming would utilize more public spaces as outlets to express Rox­bury’s diverse identity and encourage gathering and activities for all ages. Fi­nally, events programming could manifest in pop-up farmers markets, craft fairs, fashion shows, and concerts for everyone in the community to enjoy.

Working/Showing: This group was charged with supporting artistic production and exhibition by considering a toolkit for activating underutilized spaces essential to the cultural fabric of the neighborhood. Zeroing in on a building and mixed-use plaza in Dudley Square, the working/showing group explored how underutilized spaces in Boston can be enhanced through design strategies to foster the natural growth of artist communities and local businesses over time.

Housing/Living: This group was asked to generate ideas for increasing the supply of affordable, functional space for local artists to live and work in the district. Wanting to provide housing solutions for a variety of resi­dents, from young artists in need of mentorship, to older more established artists, the housing/living team landed on a modular system of design with three unit sizes. They envisioned spaces for all kinds of artists, including visual, musical, spoken word, and fashion designers, and tried to keep in mind that some people would prefer isolated work and living spaces, while others would thrive in a communal setting.

After several pin-ups and practice presentations, the team delivered a presentation last month that got the whole office involved. Using large-scale boards and an on-screen presentation, the interns showcased their design to the Sasaki office in addition to representatives from the Roxbury Cultural District and the Inner Sanctuary for the Arts [insert link], a social and event space located in Dudley Square. Following the presentation, the of­fice got a taste of Roxbury’s vibrant, multi-faceted culture with spectacular perfor­mances from musicians The Trendsetters, a spoken word artist, a hula-hooper extraordinaire, and D.J. Pink Flamingo.

While the team and Sasaki are very proud of this work, we know these are early-stage concepts that will be brought back to the community for discussion and collaboration that will lead to refined design solutions that help to ensure the #RoxburyLove Project will benefit Roxbury residents, artists, and business owners. With Roxbury’s new designation as a cultural district, Sasaki is committed to continuing to work with the community to research and envision the future of the Roxbury Cultural District through an inclusive and iterative process.

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