Located in the heart of Boston’s historic Back Bay neighborhood, this plaza is a constant hub of activity serving pedestrians accessing both the retail at the Prudential Center and office tenants at 888 Boylston Street. Inspired by the site’s wind patterns, custom designed and fabricated landscape elements include “wind swept” carved granite planters and a grove of color-changing steel light columns, each capped with a sculptural wind vane. Together, these “light vanes” transform this important urban plaza into a living wind diagram that reflects the NOAA wind maps.
The plaza provides a transforming character defined by wind and water, and has quickly become an epicenter for civic events, dining, and public performances. Designed in conjunction with the new LEED platinum 888 Boylston Street building, this plaza’s integrated landscape systems utilize clean energy and irrigation water collected on site– setting the stage for one of the most sustainable office buildings in New England.
Through vibrant programming, this plaza has quickly become an icon for the Back Bay commercial district; from bi-weekly folk concerts to large-scale seasonal celebrations. The Prudential Center Plaza has enhanced the Boylston streetscape with its colorful light vanes that provide visual interest for passer-by, sculptural planter walls that provide copious seating opportunities, and lush plantings that provides shade and softens this urban landscape. Once underutilized, the new Prudential Center Plaza has become a public epicenter for community gathering and civic activity.
Wind: Challenge or Celebration?
The site was previously comprised of a series of stepped, open plazas which were underutilized by the public and exposed pedestrians to harsh winter winds. The plaza’s design was driven by an intensive wind study, which showed that among other things, throughout the seasons the most intense forces occur at the edges of the property. A complex gradient paving pattern, sculptural “wind swept” granite planters, and a grove of stainless steel light vanes, together, complete a conceptual vision through material innovations that highlight the phenomena of wind on the site.
Undulating, wind-swept sculptures emerge from the ground and transform into unique planter walls, seating, and signage opportunities. The planters define a porous threshold along the sidewalk, framing a series of entries from the streetscape to the various doors within the new tower. Within these planters, a grove of Ginkgo trees and woodland groundcover provide a green screen between the busy streetscape and the central plaza. This dense planting provides a wind shield and dappled shade for those within the central gathering space. The vertical lines of the grove are extended by slender, stainless steel light columns.
The planters are aligned with paving bands to create a seamless transition between the surfaces, strengthening the concept of movement and transformation. A field of gradating pavers infills the space between the dark directional bands, radiating into building entrances and merging into the city sidewalk to guide circulation. The overall gradient of the plaza pavers starts at the building face and lightens as it extends to the streetscape.
Light by Night
Each of the light columns are custom fabricated using a single metal strand that wraps around structural rods to create a delicate, spiral translucent screen that is densely wound at the base and gradually opens towards the sky. Utilizing the principles of biophilia, these light vanes and seating designs are inspired by the natural world, bringing nature into the city.
At night, color-changing beams of light are reflected off the mirrored wind vanes to create playful light patterns across the ground plane. The landscape is connected to the sustainable strategies defined in the building design through complementary, color-changing lights which illuminate the wind turbines on top of 888 Boylston. An anemometer installed on the tower roof provides wind velocity data to the LED light fixtures mounted to the base of each light column.
- The anemometer signals the light fixtures to change color according to the intensity of the wind in a gradient that is defined by NOAA wind data:
- Cool blue hues from 1.5 to 2.0 meters per second wind velocity
- Emerald green hues from 2.5 to 4.0 meters per second wind velocity
- Gold hues from 4.0 to 5.0 meter per second wind velocity
- Red and magenta hues from 5.5 to 7.0 meters per second wind velocity
The wind vanes, sculpted to rotate in the wind, work together with the LED lights to transform the plaza into a living wind map. Visitors interact with this colorful wind diagram and track the velocity of the wind through dancing beacons of light. Light is projected upward to illuminate the wind vane’s mirror-finish base that caps each light column and projects a play of light on the ground plane. These reflective light poles also assist in wayfinding, ensure 24-hour lighting to the highly trafficked entrance, and offer unique placemaking potential by engaging visitors with color, movement, and local weather information.