BRA releases Avenue of Arts guidelines

October 2, 2015
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The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) has released its design guidelines for zoning in the Avenue of the Arts area, which include suggestions for minimizing shadow and wind impacts, and creating active ground floors and connecting public spaces.

The guidelines also recommend regularizing a “street wall” and creating “welcome mats” for each institution.

The Avenue of the Arts is the portion of Huntington Avenue located between Massachusetts Avenue and Longwood Avenue. The area received its name because it is home to many institutions, including Boston Symphony Orchestra, Museum of Fine Arts, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Northeastern University, Wentworth Institute of Technology and others.

The guidelines are intended to create more coherence and continuity for the Avenue of the Arts, but they are not mandatory requirements. The study area previously had not had any sort of design guidelines in place.

The guidelines examine existing street conditions and make suggestions for sidewalk and traffic lane widths in addition to “amenity zones” for trees and street lights and “cafe zones,” where appropriate.

They encourage new and expressive architecture and recommend the regularization of a “street wall” in order to provide a more consistent setting for iconic buildings to read against.

Meetings as part of a study of the area had been held by the BRA over the past year to focus on conditions, such as landscape, streetscape, mobility and public uses.

The main response from attendees at the process’s first public meeting in March was a request to extend the guidelines farther into Mission Hill. Various attendees at the community meeting requested that the study area be expanded westward to Route 9, claiming that to not do so would neglect Mission Hill residents. The guidelines do not cover that area.

David Grissino, the BRA planner in charge of the study, told the Gazette earlier this year that there were comments from the community that the Ruggles T Station might be “left behind.” The guidelines do note that Ruggles Street is one of the only connections that extends from the Fenway to the Southwest corridor, so special attention is needed on the heavily used corridor, but do not make specific recommendations for that.

The BRA has posted community response letters on its website.

In one such letter, Mission Hill resident Allison Pultinas wrote to the BRA that “trees along the MBTA tracks and a prettified reservation were supposed to create a Parisian boulevard effect” on Huntington Avenue. Pultinas wrote that the platforms for the MBTA’s E line are “aesthetically proportioned, but useless,” and occupy considerable roadway space. She suggested reducing unnecessary areas of the T platforms and to focus on maintaining healthy sidewalk trees that will live long and offer large canopies.

Recommendations from the guidelines about trees are that canopy trees along Huntington Avenue should be a single species, large, urban-hardy and salt-tolerant, with different species of distinct trees may be used on cross streets. Site furnishings are recommended to be contemporary with clean lines and made from high-quality materials, such as wood, metal or stone.

The study also identified and encouraged “welcome mats,” which are public spaces that institutions can use to create open, accessible and usable gathering areas. Examples of spaces like that that already exist are Northeastern University’s Krentzman Quad and the plaza in front of Wentworth’s Treehouse. The guidelines state that those spaces should be uniquely used by each institution and the effect will be to create a “cadence of activity nodes” down the length of the Avenue.

Northeastern, Wentworth and the New England Conservatory have recently undertaken planning and permitting processes and will add approximately 1.7 million square feet of new space directly along the Avenue. The guidelines derived from a study of the area provide recommendations for buildings and open spaces as they go through the zoning review process.

To read the guidelines, visit bostonredevelopmentauthority.org

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