Photo showing deck and seating overlook a park, with a smokestack in the background.

Pocket Ecologies

Offshoots, Inc., designs a place for people, bikes, and plants in Boston’s Charlestown neighborhood.

By Karolina Hac

Aerial photo showing ramp, green roof, and trees shielding parkgoers from the freeway.
The park uses trees and topography to screen the adjacent elevated freeway. Image courtesy Peter Vanderwarker Photography.

Traveling into Boston on the elevated section of Interstate 93, a small pop of green is visible among the swath of industry in Charlestown’s Hood Park. Designed by Offshoots, Inc., in conjunction with Elkus Manfredi Architects, that green dot is known as Hood Bike Park.

The sloping, 22,000-square-foot space, which received a 2022 BSLA Design Award, anticipates the changes coming to the Boston neighborhood and aims to be an amenity hub for cyclists and local families and a catalyst for more green space.

Photo showing deck and seating overlook a park, with a smokestack in the background.
This pocket park is a first step in increasing green space for Boston’s Charlestown residents. Image courtesy Peter Vanderwarker Photography.

Kate Kennen, ASLA, knows the park site particularly well. A one-time resident of Charlestown and an expert in phytoremediation, Kennen founded her horticulture-focused practice, Offshoots, in 2012.

Because the site’s past life meant that it was heavily contaminated, one of the design priorities was to create buffer zones to capture and mitigate airborne and groundwater contaminants. The park features three buffers: a groundwater system composed of water-seeking shrubs, an air pollution buffer composed of native trees, and a bioswale inspired by shoreline vegetation.

“You always feel this ever-present highway,” Kennen says, explaining that the first move the design team made was to tilt the landscape up to block freeway views. “I convinced the owner to give me five feet of soil [above the bike pavilion]—it’s built like a bunker.” This allowed the team to create a coastal ledge-type plant community full of quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) and northern bayberry (Morella pensylvanica).

From the ground, the trees in this zone look overscaled, gently tousled by the southwest wind. On the roof deck above the bike pavilion, it is easy to forget that just steps beyond are recycling facilities, parking lots, and gravel companies. “The plant community idea really drove that first parti,” Kennen says.

Elevation drawing showing air pollution and stormwater management systems.
The remediation strategy addresses current pollutants and anticipates future issues. Image courtesy Elkus Manfredi Architects.

The park is full of elegant transitions; building and landscape are united in a way that makes the plantings prominent, and the circulation, which is universally accessible, seems to form a continuous loop—up, around, and under.

A precast curb whose form was inspired by the historic Hood milk factory adjacent to the park transforms into seating. “We took the double radius of the Hood milk bottle and played around with it in Rhino. The morphing idea came from looking at these forms in section and plan view,” Kennen says.

Plants were sourced from different local nurseries to ensure genetic diversity. Whereas the nonnative plants are sterile, Kennen wanted the native species to spread. “If we’re going to have emerging plants along fence lines, for example, let’s have them be aspens and oaks and maples to make it a diverse plant palette,” Kennen says.

The Boston Planning and Development Agency staff sees the park as an early step toward bringing more people to this area before the rest of the Hood master plan, led by SMMA, is built in the coming years. “So many things about this project are exciting,” says Scott Slarsky, a senior architect and planner with the agency. “The public realm arises from the lawn almost as a living sculpture.”

Leave a Reply