The Christian Science Plaza Restoration and Repair project won a 2021 Engineering Excellence Award from the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) on Thursday, June 17, 2021. The award recognizes Nitsch Engineering for their innovative approach to sustainable site design in collaboration with landscape architect IBI Placemaking and project owner First Church of Christ, Scientist.
The First Church of Christ, Scientist plaza, which encompasses approximately 10 acres in Boston’s historic Back Bay, was originally designed in the 1970s by Architects I.M. Pei and Araldo Cosutta and has protected Landmark status by the Boston Landmarks Commission. The Christian Science plaza used to exist as a closed space that was walled-off from a “dangerous” community, but The First Church of Christ, Scientist imagined creating a welcoming plaza for all – a community gathering place that connects people to each other and the area. This restoration and repair project included substantial re-construction of the Reflecting Pool, expansion of the Massachusetts Avenue lawn, and the challenge to increase the plaza’s sustainability while finding solutions for long-term ineffectual water use. To do so, the project team had to tackle the pressing issues of ponding, lack of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance, and the non-sustainable use of water that had turned a high-profile tourist site into a burden that directly impacted the public it was meant to serve.
Nitsch Engineering designed a variety of drainage improvements to address chronic drainage issues on the plaza, as well as a comprehensive stormwater management and rainwater reuse system to align with the Church’s sustainability goals. We uncovered and improved decades-old drainage and plumbing techniques and implemented innovative stormwater management in the improved design of the plaza and Reflecting Pool.
Like many historic buildings in the Back Bay, which is located within the City of Boston’s Groundwater Conservation Overlay District (GCOD), the Mother Church building is considered structurally vulnerable due to the rotting wood piles on which it is built and the depleting groundwater levels. Previously, the injection wells that maintain water levels around the piles used approximately 670,000 gallons of potable water purchased from the City by the Church each year. The re-design includes a new 20,000-gallon external cistern to store captured rainwater from the Mother Church roof to supplement non-potable water to the injection wells. This new resilient and sustainable design saves the money previously spent on potable water and benefits the surrounding community by increasing groundwater recharge in the GCOD.
The First Church of Christ, Scientist wanted to embed their mission into the site’s redesign: be less wasteful, be conscious of history, and be welcoming to all. The Christian Science Plaza Restoration and Repair project created an open space for the current community to reflect on the past and enjoy the present in a historic, but sustainable space. The plaza now invites visitors to enjoy the historic Children’s Fountain and Reflecting Pool, the original Mother Church building, and the revitalized Massachusetts Avenue Lawn – all with sustainable and resilient design that benefits the neighborhood and environment.
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Landscape Architect & Prime Consultant: IBI Placemaking
Owner’s Project Manager: Redgate Real Estate Advisors
Contractor: Consigli Construction
Waterproofing Specialist: Simpson Gumpertz & Heger
Water Feature Design: DEW, Inc.
Plumbing Engineer: Jaros, Baum & Bolles
Water Treatment and Commissioning: GEI Consultants