Relax. Read. Socialize… on the new Richardson Plaza

Rendering courtesy of the Landing Studio for Northeastern University

With the coronavirus prompting a creative re-thinking of outdoor spaces, a prime section of real estate on the Boston campus will get a make-over this week, providing another safe option for students when classes resume in September.

Work crews will descend on Richardson Plaza beginning on Wednesday to start revamping the area that runs adjacent to the law school and busy Huntington Avenue. Renovations will be completed in time for the fall semester and will transform the underutilized area into another destination spot.

Rendering courtesy of the Landing Studio for Northeastern University

Step one is bringing in modular furniture that fits one person and can be arranged in different configurations to support groups. Next, to create shade, a variety of trees, about 20 in all, will be installed in rolling planter boxes to be wheeled where needed.

“We’re not trying to imitate and mimic nature but make nature work for this urban context and provide all the benefits of shade and habitat and beauty to this environment,” says Dan Adams, an associate professor of architecture at Northeastern.

As the trees mature and outgrow the mobile planters, they will find a more permanent home in the grounds around campus, which was designated an arboretum last year, making it the only university in the city with a botanical collection of trees on its campus.

Rounding out the plaza project are planks made of soft cypress wood that will cover the fixed concrete seating areas, inviting people to kick back longer.

The plaza, named after former trustee Frank L. Richardson, was designed in the early 1980s, and frankly it looks its age.

It harkens back to an era of what Adams described as “brutalist architecture”–rough, hard, cold concrete that is well-crafted, but unappealing to the eye.

He compared it to Boston’s City Hall for being “elegant in form but really inhumane.”

A public art installation late last year gave Richardson some much-needed color and helped draw attention to the area.

This week’s renovation work is led by Adams and his partner, Marie, founders of the Landing Studio architecture firm in Massachusetts. They will oversee the gradual transformation of the plaza into a space where, one day, they hope to have custom lighting and outlets to charge phones and laptops, as well as food trucks nearby.

A space near the four-sided clock could one day be opened up to serve as a classroom or performance art area.

The project was supposed to begin in March but was halted because of COVID-19. It was revived a few months later to create more individualized seating opportunities across the campus, in keeping with safe distancing measures.

The renewal of Richardson builds on the arboretum idea and the outdoor museum concept that the campus has been doing with murals, part of the Public Art Initiative of Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern.

“It will turn Richardson into another experimental art space that people will actually want to visit,” Adams predicted.

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