BSA Honors and Awards winners announced
Another year brings another opportunity for the BSA to honor those who have contributed to the architectural profession in Boston and beyond.
This year's Honors and Awards winners represent a cross-section of individuals and initiatives doing essential and timely work that focuses on addressing Boston's design needs and helping to foster a built environment that better serves all of its users. While we're having to postpone an in-person celebration, the BSA is making sure to celebrate regardless by highlighting some of the winners, including Shauna Gillies-Smith FASLA, Parke MacDowell AIA, and the Mayor's Housing Innovation Lab.
The BSA Honorary Membership honors an individual who has done valuable work to further the architectural profession and the BSA's aims, and this year's recipient certainly fits the bill. Shauna Gillies-Smith FASLA, Principal at GROUND Inc. Landscape Architecture, has continuously advocated for thoughtful and sustainable landscape design over the course of her long career.
"I was trained first as an architect and urban designer, so for me, the landscape is one piece of a continuous public realm. I see our role as helping tie the pieces together through evocative and welcoming urban spaces that foster joy and endure," said Gillies-Smith.
Gillies-Smith is highly active in Boston's design spheres. Her role as Trustee at the Boston Architectural College and her seat on the Advisory Board of the Design Industry Group of Massachusetts enable her to serve as a leading voice in matters related to landscape and urban design. She is also a familiar face at campuses across the Northeast, owing to her time spent teaching courses at schools including the Harvard GSD and RISD.
She is also former co-chair of the Urban Design Committee at the BSA, former Contributing Editor of ArchitectureBoston and former Affiliate Director on the Board of the BSA.
Though she's cautious not to play favorites, Gillies-Smith names Ground's work in Downtown Crossing in reference to recent projects she's enjoyed working on—in particular, the development of Tontine Crescent and Winthrop Square.
"These projects are already an extension of the neighboring public realm at Shoppers’ Park. Tontine Crescent started as a temporary tactical plaza reclaimed from excess road width along a historical street designed by Charles Bulfinch. The plaza provided open space instead of traffic lanes, and it received such widespread support that our clients, MP Boston, were given the green light to construct the permanent plaza, now nearing completion," said Gillies-Smith.
Gillies-Smith was drawn to landscape architecture in part because of the potential public spaces hold to appeal broadly to a wide variety of people.
"We design spaces that suggest how they can be used, but always in a way that is open to interpretation and sets the stage for the drama of urban life ... although we don’t design neutral spaces," she said. "I feel strongly that a landscape with protagonist tendencies can offer a more robust experience."
The Flansburgh Award recognizes design excellence by an emerging professional under 40. This year's winner is Parke MacDowell AIA, Senior Associate and Fabrication Manager at Payette. A graduate of the University of Michigan's M.Arch program, MacDowell has made waves during his time at Payette, where he does design and fabrication work that strengthens connections between people and their environments.
"I’m inspired by the discovery and cultivation of relationships: whether it is the intricacies of a connection detail, civic-scale social choreography, arranging shapes, or composing a project team," said MacDowell. "For me, this is the essence of design."
Asked to name a favorite recent project, MacDowell referred to Payette's work with Beyond Walls, a non-profit agency focused on community empowerment.
"This work didn’t begin with a client or a project brief, but rather an aspiration: use public art to make the world better. Nice idea, right? But how are you going to actually do it?" MacDowell asked, before answering his own question: "We developed an approach that is simple and powerful. Beyond Walls aligns its arts initiatives with the strategic goals of its community partners to improve the places where we live, work, and play."
The collaboration has resulted in revitalization projects focused on brightening the city of Lynn- both literally, through initiatives that brought LED lighting to dark underpasses, and figuratively, through public art installations. MacDowell also headed a team that worked with Beyond Walls to implement pandemic-era projects like WaSH, easy-to-install public wash stations, and FoLD, a barrier system for outdoor dining.
"We engage the local stakeholders as collaborators, both in defining the problem and in developing the solution," said MacDowell.
MacDowell is also the co-founder of MKR | MGR, a BSA Knowledge
Community that facilitates knowledge-sharing among fabricators and
"Sharing knowledge openly makes our individual work better and lays the groundwork for elevating the industry. This is how we maximize the value of our personal efforts and make a broader difference," MacDowell said. "Specifically, regarding fabrication: By continuing to arm ourselves with capabilities that challenge business-as-usual, we position ourselves to be agile and responsive to evolving aspirations – both client-initiated and internally motivated."
MacDowell is looking forward to working innovatively around fabrication over the rest of 2022.
"Payette has some exciting things cooking," he said. "We are increasingly self-performing fabrication for key design elements in our projects. I expect this trend to accelerate in the coming year, delivering enhanced opportunities for design authorship and added value for our clients."
In 2016, a report by the Brookings Institute found that Boston ranked first among all big cities in terms of income inequality. The economic instability spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these conditions, which have significant implications for housing. The City's projections indicate that Boston's population will grow to include more than 700,000 people by 2030, making it more important than ever to ensure that all residents have access to safe and affordable housing. Enter the Housing Innovation Lab, a project created in 2014 under Mayor Walsh intended to address these issues.
"Housing, often one of the most pressing issues in the city, is an area where dynamics like competing priorities and feasibility can make or break efforts for transformative change," said Dr. Taylor Cain, former director of the Housing Innovation Lab.
Through partnering with external collaborators and launching pilot programs to engage community members, the Innovation Lab, or iLab for short, utilizes creative thinking to solve Boston's housing problems. The iLab, headed by the Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM), is the recipient of the 2021 BSA Commonwealth Award, awarded to "an individual, group, concept, or object [who] has influenced significantly our built environment or our awareness of it."
"The City's commitments on providing more housing and more affordable housing requires a wide range of strategies, and one of them has to be experimentation. New approaches to our existing building stock, new partnerships to foster vibrant intergenerational neighborhoods, and new approaches to community engagement happen when we are intentional, able to prototype, and willing to reevaluate the barriers that are preventing progress," said Kris Carter, Chair of MONUM. "The iLab is a focal point for that curiosity ... to remind us all what is possible and practical."
"This is accomplished by asking and seeking to answer different types of questions: How can we be more creative in our uses of spaces like city owned parcels and buildings? What do models of community ownership need to be successful and more widely adopted? How do we center the experiences and needs of renters and BIPOC households in decision making around housing policies?" said Dr. Cain. "This practice of leading with questions grounded in the everyday experiences of residents brings big problems to the scale of the neighborhood and individual."
The iLab and the BSA have collaborated to discover how design and policy can work together through several initiatives, including "Co-Creating Boston's Future Decker," a request for ideas that put out an open call for submissions that re-envisioned New England's classic three-decker buildings with a focus on sustainability and affordability. The submissions are currently showcased in Imaginations of Home, an exhibition on view at BSA Space.
"Design isn't cosmetic—it is foundational to transforming our city to be more equitable, affordable, and accessible," said Carter. "Design research done by the Housing iLab has informed how we think about using public land and assets, changed the conversation on density and compact living, and stretched our imaginations of what a triple-decker might look like in the future. Designing for the margins and for the city we want to be has to be about making housing more affordable and our neighborhoods more accessible."
"Over the past few years I have heard residents from across the city reminisce about the porches in triple-deckers where they've gathered with friends and family," added Dr. Cain. "The importance of design weaves throughout these narratives as individuals and families interact with the built environment ... Design pushes us to go beyond housing as simply a physical structure but to instead see housing as something that can help people foster a sense of community, connect to opportunities, and reflect their uniqueness."