Christian Science Church releases draft plan to revitalize Plaza in Boston

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The Christian Science Board of Directors at The First Church of Christ, Scientist, today released a Draft Project Plan (large pdf) (small pdf) for the Christian Science Plaza in Boston. The Church has been in the Boston community for over 130 years. “The Church is proud to be part of Boston’s progressive vision and noble history,” said Mary Trammell, Chair of the Board of Directors, “and to continue a tradition of contributing to this City’s beauty, inspiration, and progress. We wish to express our deep gratitude to the many citizens, public officials, and professionals who helped develop this plan to revitalize the Plaza.”

Since February 2009, the Church has engaged with a Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC) appointed by Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino. The CAC is assisting the City, through the Boston Redevelopment Authority, to ensure that community priorities are addressed at all stages of project planning, and has met 17 times to date.

It has been 40 years since the last major redesign of the Plaza. The desire to improve the pedestrian experience, enhance sustainability features, and address significant needed repairs led the Church in 2006 to commence a public planning process to revitalize the Plaza. The Church will continue its stewardship of the Plaza for the benefit of the community. This is the Church’s permanent home; it cares deeply about what happens on the Plaza and in its neighborhood. The three objectives of the Plaza Revitalization Project are to: 

1. Enhance open space
The Church plans to make the Plaza a more usable and attractive year-round destination for the community, with places for both quiet contemplation and active enjoyment, and improve pedestrian circulation through the site and to the adjacent neighborhoods. The Project proposes to reinstate the historical pathway to the Original Mother Church, by including a pedestrian ground-level crossing through the Reflecting Pool. (This is not a bridge over the Pool, but a pathway through it.) Here are diagrams of the existing site and proposed changes:

Existing site plan of plaza

Existing site plan (Click here for high resolution image)

Proposed site plan of the plaza

Proposed site plan (Click here for high resolution image)

Peter Brigham, Senior Associate at Sasaki Associates, adds “The current design concept preserves the open space and the tremendous success of the original Plaza design while making the site more welcoming to the public. Careful attention to the design of the plaza-level pedestrian crossing and the slight shortening of the Reflecting Pool will help create better connections and revitalize the Reflecting Pool and the Plaza.” The Children’s Fountain, redesigned and rebuilt in 2001, will continue to be a key feature on the Plaza, and ice skating is being considered for that area the winter. The Church also proposes to soften the site by expanding lawn areas and adding more shade trees, benches, and tables.

2. Improve environmental sustainability
Water conservation: The Church needs to rebuild the Reflecting Pool, which cannot be repaired further as it is subject to breakdowns and leaks into the garage below. Rebuilding the Pool, which is empty half the year, provides opportunities to improve it while retaining its reflectivity and its vital contribution to the Plaza. The Pool’s depth will be reduced from 26 inches to about 6 to 12 inches, saving more than two million gallons of water annually. Dan Euser, President of Waterarchitecture Inc., points out, “Water reflectivity is a function of pool floor color darkness. There are many successful mirror-like pools that are only one to four inches deep. As pools become shallower, filtration turnover rates are increased to maintain the same water quality.”
Other environmental benefits: These will include reducing the urban heat island effect by planting more trees and grass areas; improving rainwater management by creating more permeable surfaces; and improving groundwater management for the approximately 4,800 wood piles under the Original Mother Church and The Mother Church Extension.

3. Identify opportunities for underutilized real estate
No existing buildings will be demolished, and open space will be retained. The Plaza is underdeveloped in terms of its current zoning and in comparison with surrounding areas. The addition of new buildings in selected locations on the perimeters — near the intersection of Belvidere and Dalton Streets and between the Sunday School building and Huntington Avenue — will add new vitality to the area, create new jobs, and increase property tax revenues for the City.

The Church is financially stable, but too much of its financial resources are being directed towards real estate maintenance and operations rather than toward its mission. Reuse of existing space and construction of new space would generate real estate revenues to help offset real estate expenses, including the ongoing costs of maintaining the open space.

The Church is also in the process of responding to the Boston Landmarks Commission study report released on June 22. The Church shares common ground with the Landmarks Commission in wanting to preserve key aspects of the Plaza, but is exploring less restrictive approaches that would provide historic recognition and protection while allowing the continuing evolution of the Plaza in beneficial ways for the Church, the neighborhood, and the City.

The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts, is the Church’s worldwide headquarters. Spiritual healing is at the core of the Church’s mission. The Church’s wholly-owned subsidiary, The Christian Science Publishing Society, publishes several magazines, as well as The Christian Science Monitor.

To schedule a media interview, please contact Sharon Frey at 617-450-3324 or freys@csps.com.

More info:

Plaza Revitalization Project Draft Plan (PDF)

Executive Summary in Project Draft Plan (PDF)

Boston Landmarks Commission Study Report

Letter from Church to Boston Landmarks Commission (PDF)

  1. Great Blog post. I am going to bookmark and read more often. I love the Blog template

  2. I love the ideas being proposed. It appears that a great deal of thought and prayer has gone into this project that will soon be coming to fruition.

    Warmest thanks to all those who have given given their time, attention, and love to this endeavor.

    I look forward to further installments of information

  3. “God’s requirement. God requires wisdom,economy and brotherly love to characterize all the proceedings of the members of The Mother Church, The First Church of Christ, Scientist. Man 77 Sect 5.

    The Christian Science Board of Directors always has my support. This week’s Bible Lesson on “Truth” is all about honesty, righteousness, humility and love for God and man. If these attributes are being expressed in this project it cannot help but benifit all concerned. Any ulterior motives, greed and so on just forfeit divine help, as Mrs. Eddy says. “In beauty, grandeur, order His handiwork is shown.” Hymn 329

    With love and grtitude, always, Fay

  4. Having been a member of The Mother Church for almost 50 years, I have had the deep pleasure of watching this area evolve from the point of view of a Mid-Westerner. Big city ideas, with very tender concern for the neighborhood, and nurturing the expansion of the properties all coming together right there! I am so grateful for the awesome changes I have just read about. Obviously, what blesses one, blesses all!! Thank you for sharing all the news of the progress of this project as it is moving forward. Much love to you all! Lisa Levengood

  5. Thank you for all the time and effort that has clearly gone into this plan, and for your willingness to consider suggestions from church members and from the broader community.

    I must admit that I’m deeply disappointed. I’d hoped that the reflecting pool would be replaced by a park-like oasis with curved walking paths, plentiful seating, and perhaps some edible landscaping. Instead, the plan adds a bit more green to a design that’s fundamentally cold, rigid, unfriendly, and decades out of date. If sustainability were truly a high priority, and if the church truly wanted to bless those who live and work in the neighborhood, the plan would look very different.

    I’m so sorry. What a lost opportunity for Boston — and for other cities that may have been inspired to follow in the church’s footsteps.

  6. A life-long Christian Scientist, I visited Boston and the plaza for the first time this year. We entered via public transportation at Huntington Ave & Belvedere St. The view of the church is fantastic. But I agree that getting around the pond by the Sunday School is user unfriendly. By shortening the pond and building the bridge, alternate routes provide interest and a choice.

    I am concerned about reducing the depth of the pool if it detracts from its reflective qualities. Perhaps a solution could be found in its resurfacing.

    The wind was noticeable near 117 Huntington Ave. Whatever can be done to mitigate the tunnel effect would help.

    Another suggestion is to name the streets on your diagrams and maps, as many of us are not so familiar with Boston.

    Best regards,

    Norman King

  7. I am thrilled with the plan. I see all the good espressed and I have happy memories of takeing my grandaughter, Becky, back when she was 14 and she and I were so impressed with the Sunday School building as well as everything else. I have a long story about the experience that we will long remember………and she ran through the fountain in her clothes!

  8. Well done to all concerned.

    Other groups can gain from observing the process which has been undertaken throughout The Mother Church and its extensive activities. It is indeed “of the day”.

  9. More buildings? I thought we already have too many.

  10. I welcome the provision of a pathway across the reflecting pool. Approaching from the Huntington Ave. side, the pool was quite a barrier to access. More trees and lawn will also be softening and greening in every sense. I get the feeling that there’s a tremendous amount of co-operation and goodwill at work here.

  11. Thanks you for sharing the progress of the Mother church Plaza.

    Members of the world wide movement are most grateful for the dedicated work of the Board of Directors.

  12. I haven’t been to Boston in over 20 years and just viewing these photos has brought back many memories. I especially like your vision for the reflecting pool to retain it’s beautiful reflecting qualities while conserving water. I look forward to seeing the completion of this project.

  13. from what I read it sounds very good, particularly if there will be more greenery, like grass, flowers and trees to enjoy and to “soften” the Plaza. I always felt there was to much “stony” space.
    And please don’t forget benches or other possibilities to relax and enjoy …

    thank you so much

  14. Some users of older computers may have difficulty viewing the hi-res PDF even with the latest version of Adobe Reader. It’s not the file itself that’s at fault because it can be viewed on newer machines. A version of this PDF that is not hi-res might be a useful addition to those who find that much of the hi-res file appears to be “missing”.

  15. I value the ongoing, loving, conscientious progress that reflects the openness of thought and sincerity of vision of the Christian Science Board of Directors. The Plaza is a beautiful area: one of peace, relaxation and reflection. Thank you for maintaining and enhancing this, and at the same time, being faithful stewards of all the Church’s resources.

  16. I agree that this was a lost opportunity to provide a beautiful area for seating among gardens and trees. A comfortable and beautiful oasis for contemplation right in front of the Church. What a waste of a wonderful space.

  17. I like what is being proposed..It would be even better if more green were included to further soften and reduce permeable surfaces.
    Thanks to all for years of planning and prayer..

  18. Wonderful to hear there will be more water and greenery, to offset the concrete. And I’ve long thought it would be nice to “bridge over” the reflecting pool. This oasis in the city of Boston exists to provide a healing environment for all, and the plan is inspired. I look forward to seeing it!

  19. I have a background in the field of industrial design. There exists a design principle that I believe was largely ignored by the original architectural firm that designed the Center, or “Plaza” as it is now called. In the language of line straight and angular lines are considered to be masculine. They reflect the masculine qualities of logic, incisiveness, and decisiveness. Curved lines represent feminine qualities. Feminine qualities include love, receptivity, intuition and nurturing. The early architects who “married” the Original Edifice and the Extension buildings must have had this in mind. One sees a unified composition of straight and curved surfaces that visually convey the loving and principled purpose for which the Church was founded. The sight of these two magnificent churches framed by the verdant little park that once existed where the plaza now stands conveyed the appearance of a peaceful oasis in the midst of a bustling city. Sadly, that quality was compromised with development of the plaza. I saw the construction work first hand forty years ago and was not pleased with it. The Sunday School building looked like a bunker. The office tower looked like a gigantic tomb stone. The two beautiful old churches were encapsulated and isolated in asphalt. The over all impression was of a church that had lost the element of love and had turned coldly inward on itself. I know that this wasn’t true, but that is what the design suggested. It would appear that the new developments to the plaza which, hopefully, will include more curved pathways and natural foliage will help to restore the area as a place of peace and healing.

  20. As a landscape architect with decades of interest in this site I can appreciate both the “Opportunities” and the “Constraints” that need to be considered in revisiting the design of this space. On one hand the potential and hopes appear to be unbounded, thrilling, lively, inclusive, neighborly and magnanimous . While on the other hand there are the practical costs for reconstruction and ongoing maintenance, as well as, holding fast to the Church’s core mission and abiding within the trust it owes to its supporters. The proposed design effort seems to me to be only “pleasant”, so far. The comment by Violet (NUMBER 6) should be discussed and considered. Would it not be helpful to address these points : !.) Comparison with other similar urban sites around the world that have responded to the same opportunities and challenges. 2.) Provision for growth and adaptation over time. The proposed re-design seems to be bordering on static and not very dynamic. 3.) Boston is the “home” of The Livable Streets Movement. Has that grass roots organization been contacted? 4.) Would Brad Pitt’s “E2″ program document our approach, goals, deliberations and reconstruction?
    5.)This Church might wish to consider a similar urban and quasi public space of great historical interest …. SOLOMON’S PORCH … which is mentioned only three times in the New Test. John 10:23, Acts 3:11 and 5:12. Outside the Temple in Jerusalem this space was filled with many people and during the course of their daily lives it is recorded that they first asked Jesus if this is indeed the promised truth; that they witnessed Peter and John heal; and that at one point “the early followers were of all accord in one place”. ….. WOW ! NOW, THAT WOULD BE THE BEST REDESIGN FOR AN URBAN SPACE. Let us make the best of this current opportunity. Set the goal high.

  21. Kudos to the Board of Directors and other church officials involved in this plan.

    Since my time working at the Church Center several years ago, I have been glad to see the changes that have taken place in recent years for the ’softening’ of the Plaza, and look forward to the upcoming changes.

    As a previous writer said, my feeling too was that there were always a lot of bricks and paved areas around the Church which contibuted to a cold-feeling property.

    Am wondering about the ice skating rink, what with liability insurance being what it is these days. Perhaps there is an expectation of healing involved with this idea!

    I do miss the Linden trees which used to flank the entrance to the Publishing Society…

  22. I am filled with gratitude and amazement at all the love for Church, community, environment, consideration for city, transportation with attention to so many details I see in these plans. You have surely been listening to Love be able to think outside the box to come up with such good solutions, keeping our spending and priorities where they need to be. Thank you for the courage it took to embark on such a giant undertaking. New ideas and change often find resistance, but TMC from the early pictures until now, has grown and will continue to progress. I’m so glad you are concerned with being accessible and welcoming to the public, our local community and businesses and at the same time environmentally friendly. Thank you for all the prayerful work and care you all have given this project. It shows. It is surely a clear example of church and state working together. Thank you again. I look forward to seeing it completed.

  23. God bless you all. I’ve been a member since 1950 and grew up in the midwest ICE SKATING. I sincerely hope that you make ice skating available for all. A splendid idea.

  24. It is time for the leadership of this Church to use the property more productively.

  25. I am grateful for all of the prayerful consideration given this project. I’ve yet to look thoroughly at the plans; however, I know that your motives are pure and the fruit will be beautiful. It has been 14 years since I have visited The Mother
    Church and yet the peace and beauty of the Church Center is still a vivid memory.

  26. I, too, am deeply grateful for my Church’s dedication to the community of Boston. This plan will bless everyone and show the entire world how much Christian Scientists care for the communities in which they live and have a Church presence worldwide. Thank you all at the “Centre” for all you are doing for TMC and thus for Boston. I have not been to TMC since 2002 and look forward to my next visit perhaps after this plan comes to fruition. Greetings from ENGLAND.

  27. For one, I’m glad to see the site will be softened somewhat. The entire pool can go as far as I’m concerned. It made the Plaza “cold” to me when it was built compared to the previous trees and green. The more of the latter the better. Six months with the pool empty? Where’s the beauty in that?

  28. I picked up on Dale’s comment in post 21. He wrote: “line straight and angular lines are considered to be masculine. They reflect the masculine qualities of logic, incisiveness, and decisiveness. Curved lines represent feminine qualities.”

    There are so many right angles and straight lines on the Church Plaza that now is an opportunity for more curves for the sake of more balance of masculine and feminine design qualities.

  29. Thank you for sooooo much thought and prayer. As this is a “draft,” would it be possible to consider MORE green space? Little bitty Krutch Park in downtown Knoxville was redesigned several years ago and it is so inviting . . . green shade trees, benches, water falls, etc. Since the walkway essentially divides the reflection pool into 2 parts, maybe one of the parts could house more green space and benches. The other would remain as a refection pool.

  30. Build whatever would draw lots of people to the area and introduce them to Christian Science. Most of Boston must know about Christian Science. They are the lucky ones. How about a united nations building? Well, it sort of IS a united nations building, isn’t it? It’s your call. I loved the look of the plaza, pool and all. Enjoy the project.

  31. This building plan designed as a “for-profit” goal puts TMC in the role of “landlord”. How does that affect the Church’s “non-profit” status and it’s tax-exempt status, whereby the Church currently does not pay property taxes?

  32. The concepts of urban amenities has changed radically in the last 40 years since I M Pei was designing urban space with bold, statuesque designs. The Twenty-first century asks for kinder, gentler spaces for city dwellers in which to “live, move, and have (their) being.” So…
    1. Let’s replace the entire pond with grass.
    2. Let’s have more shade trees and benches.
    3. Let’s have more banks of flowers and tall grasses.

    Let’s come into this new decade with a softer, more embracing urban environment. People need to feel God’s Mother-Love now more than ever before.

  33. i love that.

  34. Thanks, everyone, for sharing your thoughts. We really appreciate hearing various perspectives. Here are a few points to address some specific concerns raised above:
    - The plans to reduce the Reflecting Pool’s depth from 26 inches to about 6 to 12 inches will not detract from the Pool’s reflective qualities. And it would save at least 2 million gallons of water annually.
    - The plans do not include a bridge over the Reflecting Pool, but a ground-level crossing through the Pool to improve pedestrian circulation and reinstate a historical pathway to the Original Mother Church.

    Please feel free to continue to send in your comments.

  35. Re: Allan, – Thanks for your question. The Church currently pays property taxes on all property it leases to commercial tenants. This will continue.

  36. Although I am not a member of the Church, I am a Boston commuter who is extremely grateful of the Church for creating and maintaining this wonderful plaza.

    Contrary to what many others are suggesting, I would strongly recommend not replacing the reflecting pool with some sort of “green.” The reflecting pool is what makes the site unique. If I wanted lawns, grass, and benches, I could visit the Garden, Common, Esplanade, Greenway, Post Office Square, Copley Square, etc. I believe that this redesign is a wholehearted effort to improve upon the existing design while still maintaining its magic qualities. While I agree that softening the plaza with more green is good, the reflecting pool needs to stay.

    Sharon – is there any more information on the new buildings being constructed on the site? While the plaza on the whole is an example of “good” brutalism, I am hopeful the the new buildings will not be brutalist, and may instead be of the international, beaux arts, or neoclassical style.

    Thanks!

  37. Akin to the POOL OF BETHESDA, a major body of water serves, to my mind, as the touchstone of the whole plaza.
    That being said, would applaud the somewhat shrinkage of
    the reflecting pool (currently way too large), along with
    integration of increased vegetation, along with actual benches, with real backs for full body support

    As for the addition of one, or more new buildings—simply
    don’t get that. Why go there? The whole plaza concept serves, does it not, as a couterbalance to all the buildings around the plaza.

    dc mueller, denver (security alum)

  38. Thank you so much for keeping us in the know about the proposed project. One of my friends at work was sent to Boston and was housed overlooking the Plaza. She returned with a glowing report on how much she enjoyed it. She passed on to others to be sure and visit the Plaza I look forward to updates about it.

  39. How gratifying to hear of the love being expressed by the people of Boston and our dear Church members with regard to the Plaza. I love the new design which includes more green space, peace and relaxation for anyone passing by our Mother Church. May all those people feel the love of God for his children as they spend some time enjoying this space.
    Thank you for all the prayers and work that have gone into this project. I hope to visit Boston in the not too distant future.

  40. Reading everyone’s comments is certainly interesting and brings many
    expanding ideas. I, too, remember the former park-like plaza. I agree that a softening to the current plaza is a good idea. As Jake #39 said there are lots of “parks” in Boston. Water symbolizes movement, activity, life, refreshment. To see God’s beauty- sky, trees, birds, etc.,- reflected in the water is a joy. At the same time, water should not cause problems-leakage, pedestrian inconvenience, unnecessary water usage. My thanks to those working on this project and to your willingness to listen to our comments and opinions. The plaza is loved by people around the world. Thanks again for your dedication.

  41. For your convenience, we've added a low-resolution version of the Draft Project Plan pdf. You'll find the link in the first paragraph. Thanks!

  42. J am so thankful for the beautiful blessing for so many. What wonderful prayerful work. much appreciation Claire London

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