Should a new, redesigned Copley Square be a tranquil urban oasis or a grand venue for concerts and celebrations?
It turns out the answer to this question is yes.
The Watertown architectural firm Sasaki is homing in on a final design for what a new Copley Square should look like, by narrowing down the discussion to three distinct concepts. The end result, to be presented to the public this spring, will probably reflect elements from two or three of these concepts.
City officials have budgeted up to $10.9 million for what would be the two-acre square’s biggest face lift since the 1980s, up from $4 million last summer. They hope to start construction in 2022.
The underlying theme of the design will be flexibility. Sasaki has found through its survey of 1,200 or so Bostonians that residents want the iconic Back Bay square to continue its dual functions as a neighborhood park and a hub for large events, rather than skew the design in one direction.
“There’s something interesting about the need for Copley to be many things for many people, at many times of the year,” said Kate Tooke, a landscape architect at Sasaki.
“Mostly, the responses are: ‘We want a balance. We want a little green, a little paved. A place to be on a daily basis, and a place that can hold the right kind of events. . . . A place that is modern, and a place that responds to the historic architecture” around it.
Now, Sasaki and the city are conducting another online poll — this time, to understand which elements residents like the most out of the architectural firm’s three concepts. These concepts are dubbed “City Platform,” featuring one raised deck under trees on the Boylston Street side; “Raised Crossings,” a scheme that shows crisscrossing paths as well as several smaller decks; and “Framed Ellipse,” which encircles an interior plaza with greenery.
The concepts share some common goals. For example, city officials are trying to move the area where events are staged away from Trinity Church. To that end, they may decide to temporarily close the stretch of Dartmouth Street along the park for limited times on weekends or for big events, using the street as a continuation of the plaza in front of the Boston Public Library’s McKim Building on the other side of the street.
City officials originally launched the project to address pressing maintenance needs: cracked pavement, struggling trees, an old fountain in need of a makeover. But they’ve used it as a way to delve into what the public loves about the park, what needs to be protected, and what should be enhanced.
The concrete fountain will most likely be redone, under any scenario. Sasaki is considering several concepts for a new fountain, and city officials would like to accommodate the skateboarders who use the fountain area in the colder months.
The upgrade offers a redemption opportunity of sorts for Sasaki. The firm won a celebrated design contest in the 1960s, but its plans turned Copley Square into a vast, sunken expanse of concrete. That design fell out of favor. The square took on its current form in the 1980s, when it was brought back to street level, with more trees and grass. (Another fully paved-over square wouldn’t be built today because of groundwater management rules in the Back Bay.)
With its various concepts, Sasaki is aiming to strike a balance and to continue the all-things-to-all-people approach encouraged by the 1980s design.
“People care so much about the square,” Tooke said. “What these schemes are trying to do is to preserve what people love but also update it, make it more functional, make it more durable, and make it a better host for events.”