The types of projects architects encounter have an extraordinary range. While they work on plenty of bread-and-butter office or residential buildings, they’re often asked to find solutions to uncommon—and highly interesting—problems, such as how to turn a still-operational road salt facility on a brownfield site into a community amenity. That was the challenge leveled at Boston-based Landing Studio, and one whose solution, Rock Chapel Marine, has garnered several awards for the firm, including a 2017 AIA Award for Regional and Urban Design.
Rock Chapel Marine, which is alternatively called “Publicly Organized Recreation Territory” (PORT), was once a 13-million-gallon oil tank farm alongside the waterways of Chelsea, Massachusetts. Prior to Landing Studio’s involvement, it had become a road salt terminal that would expand and contract based on seasonal demand. The terminal saw heavy wintertime use for the distribution of more than 100,000 tons of salt per year to aid in highway ice abatement, but it saw little activity during the warmer months. Now, it combines its function as the Eastern Salt Company’s storage facility with a more publicly enticing waterfront park, with the area of each relating to the current season: Winter equals more salt, less park; summer means less salt and more park.
Some of the structural shells of the old oil tanks remain, with new soil and plant cover added to begin the soil remediation process for a wildlife habitat upon a site that has seen half a century of heavy industrial usage. One of the larger tank shells has been converted into an outdoor amphitheater, and its frame supports lighting for the event space. Landing Studio repurposed an old tugboat as a lookout tower for the park, and illustrated salt piling strategies that would preserve neighborhood views to the waterfront; a new basketball court would be the last zone filled with salt if the spatial need arises. The architects also specified containment covers for the salt piles that lend a cleaner aesthetic to the industrial portion of Rock Chapel Marine while providing a backdrop for projected art installations and screenings.
Rock Chapel Marine is a highly site-specific solution; while not every client has the same seasonal tug-and-pull, many projects come with their own hot-and-cold stretches. Schools, unless they run summer programs, are underutilized outside of the school year. Sports arenas tend to hold large-scale concerts in their respective off-seasons. Whole beachside communities swell in the summertime and empty out in the winter. Enterprising ski resorts have found that mountain biking allows them to keep their chairlifts running after the snow melts. Even places of weekly worship tend to fill up on one day per week, and can be left empty on the other six.
Part of the architect’s role is to recognize opportunities for symbiotic relationships, such as that of the salt piles and the park, to capitalize on seasonal demands. By building flexibility into projects so they’re not constrained to a single use, architects can help underperforming sites develop year-round potential.
About the author: Deane Madsen, Assoc. AIA, is a writer and architectural photographer based in Washington, DC. He is the founder of Brutalist DC and the former associate editor of design for Architect Magazine.