Reviving Heritage Through Hardscapes
LASN January 2017 Hardscapes
By Rachel Loeffler, RLA, ASLA, The Berkshire Design Group
North Adams is located towards the northwestern corner of Massachusetts in a valley created by two branches of the Hoosic River. Historically a mill town, North Adams relied on the river and rail to transport goods during the industrial revolution.
The North Adams Western Gateway Heritage State Park is in the heart of downtown. The 1.6-acre park is long and linear, shaped in a hook, with parking lots at either end. The park is poised at the convergence of rail and water infrastructure, which severs it from the rest of the city. In the 1980s, the park was renovated to provide access for restaurants, businesses and nonprofits. By 2012, these improvements had neared their end of life--surfaces were cracking, chipping, and failing.
In 2014, the city of North Adams, in partnership with a private entity, sought to update the park and to attract desired future uses. Given the rebranding of North Adams as an arts mecca, the city saw the improvements of the park in alignment with that goal. The city could commission site improvements to the park, while the private entity would redevelop the buildings within it.
The Berkshire Design Group assisted North Adams in developing a master plan for the park and future connections to MASSMoCA, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Initial phases were identified and surveyed, and conceptual plans developed to address the future uses proposed by the client. The plan was refined and translated into construction documents and specifications. Berkshire Design assisted in observing the implementation of the plans. Other consultants included Lindgren and Sharples as the electrical engineer.
The interior of the park needed to provide delivery truck access. Detailed studies by the design team ensured the paving could accommodate the turning radii of a vehicle. The park also needed to replace a failing retaining wall at its southern entrance.
The paving pattern pays homage to the former uses of the site--the repetition and banding mimics the patterning of rail ties of a rail line. Within these bands of light gray, dark gray, red, glacier white and dark charcoal, curvilinear blocks of color create abstract patterns of a river's flow, referencing the adjacent Hoosic River. Wausau Tile curved precast concrete benches in porcelain white create areas to "pull off" from the flow of the walkway.
The paving works with existing drainage patterns on site. Existing cobblestones were gathered and reused on site as a series of grass terraces near the southern entrance. Versa-Lok products rebuilt the failing retaining wall. The southern entrance to the park was graded back and planted with varying colors and textures that provide interest through the seasons, including yellow crocus, liriope, and sugar maples with stainless steel tree grates from Hendrick Screens. The result opens views into the park and is more welcoming.
Mirroring the hybrid nature of North Adam's arts culture, the park inserts contemporary uses and works of art into a historic urban fabric. The patterning of the paving expands the park's usability for future tenants while juxtaposing modern art against old rail buildings. Completed August 2015, the park provides a central promenade for ease of access and delivery. A plane of continuous paving flows through the park, framing the surrounding buildings and providing continuity for an otherwise fragmented series of internal sightlines.