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This architect looked at an abandoned, littered parking lot under a highway and saw something beautiful

Photo: Dan Adams poses for a photo in Boston’s Ink Block neighborhood. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Dan Adams, who directs Northeastern’s School of Architecture, reimagined an abandoned, litter-strewn area under Interstate 93 to create a useable community space that doubles as a natural filtration system for water that runs off the highway.

And recently, the American Institute of Architects celebrated the project by naming it one of its 2019 Institute Honor Award winners.

Adams’ award-winning project resulted from an effort by officials at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to consider the best ways to use the empty spaces underneath highway overpasses.

Completed in 2017, Adam’s design revolutionized a parking lot in Boston’s Ink Block neighborhood that was nestled under a web of highway on- and off-ramps, neighboring train track junctures, and a waterway. What was once a parking lot is now home to a basketball court, pedestrian walkways, and space for community theater performances.

The Ink Block project won over a jury of architects and city planners to nab the 2019 Regional and Urban Design award.

“What’s exciting about these awards is that they help get our ideas disseminated,” said Adams, who co-founded Landing Studio, the architecture and design firm that led the project.

The award “recognizes the best in urban design, regional and city planning, and community development,” Matt Tinder, a spokesman for the American Institute of Architects, wrote in an email to News@Northeastern. “The best planning accounts for the entire built environment, local culture, and available resources—modeling architecture’s promise and true value to communities. This is the highest honor the AIA gives to design projects.”

The key with the project at Ink Block, Adams said, was meeting often disjointed goals as well as tying together a challenging landscape.

The space had to serve as a recreation area for community members, and a way to connect the neighborhoods cleaved by I-93, and a means to purify the water splashing off the highway before it reached Four Points Channel, and an access point for heavy DOT machinery working under the highway.

“Negotiation was the characteristic of this project that got it recognized as a contribution to the field,” Adams said.

He said attention earned among his peers and other municipal officials by the project at Ink Block has helped Landing Studio land similar projects in other complex areas. Adams is currently working on redesigning Charlesgate, an area in Boston that connects Commonwealth Avenue, the string of parks known as the Emerald Necklace, and the Charles River Esplanade.

Adams said he hopes the award can serve as proof that it is possible to design urban spaces that accommodate several competing goals all at once.

“It’s proof of concept that these ideas are good and have benefits,” he said.

For media inquiries, please contact media@northeastern.edu.

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