FGS hosts Common Boston Common Build Competition: “Off the Grid” is off the charts amazing
By FGS Roving Reporter Bruno Rubio
The Fenway Garden Society was honored and excited to serve as the venue for the 2012 Common Boston Common Build Competition from Friday June 22 to Sunday June 24. The CBCB is a three-day design and construction competition that invites Boston designers to actively address social, economic, and environmental issues by taking part in rapid design-and-build projects. The theme of the competition, “Off the Grid”, challenged the builders to promote awareness in the Victory Garden and to reconfirm how the park is inextricably connected to the neighborhood.
Starting on Friday six teams reconnoitered locations in the park to set up small-scale, temporary installations that speak to the unique nature of the Victory Gardens and examine questions of place, security, and adjacency to the neighborhood. Most teams spent the next day brainstorming their designs and acquiring building materials from Boston Building Resources, which partnered with Common Boston in presenting this year’s competition. The park was bursting with activity on Sunday morning as team members hammered and sawed, nailed and drilled, shoveled and raked. The installations were judged on Sunday afternoon by a jury from the art, architecture, and design communities. Projects were critiqued based on design concept, execution, sustainability, and contextuality. The public was also invited to tour the build sites with the judges and to vote for their favorite through an on-line poll.
By creating a living-room-like setting Brian Baker and his team sought to transform a vacant shade garden into a gathering space where gardeners could relax, share knowledge by posting questions and answers on a bulletin board, and exchange plants and seeds. Brian said, “This plot is underutilized because of the big tree. It’s a shade plot, so for a lot of people this isn’t their first choice. We’re trying to find a way to make it an amenity for everyone in the garden.”
A constellation of hanging glass jars in which gardeners could store seeds graces the garden living-room installation.
The idea of building community by sowing not only seeds but also ideas figured in another installation that featured an array of sunflower seed envelopes on a pegboard: get a seed packet and reveal a hint for getting along with others.
The Victory Garden has endured for 70 years now. Rising from the ashes dumped here for generations while a municipal rubbish heap to be reborn as a life-sustaining mother-of-thousands during time of war, the park is now a destination for a most trendy sort of adult recreation. It is fitting that one installation evoked the singular history of the park by mounting a display of items that might be unearthed by digging deep into the past. We’ve heard the stories of gardeners exhuming everything from shoes to guns. But what about a shower, or a sink, or a toilet? The truth is down there and it just might work its way up some day.
Despite its rich history, the future of the Victory Garden depends on our continuing ability to draw support from the neighborhood, particularly for the infusion of new blood. Builders Chris Fuller and George San Martín set up a door suggesting entry and welcome as part of their installation. Chris said, “Trying to bring more people from the outside community to walk around in here. People will pass by and wonder what’s this big open door in the middle of a field? Maybe I’ll come here to check it out. Lots of people who live in this area never more than walk down that path out in front.”
While arranging her team’s installation Margaret Jackson said, “The theme is building a space for social connections, to bring the community out of their plots to get to know each other a little bit better. Use it as a place to put faces with names. We have a get-to-know-your-neighbors section, an ask-an-expert section where you can share your knowledge, as well as a give-and-take board. It’s a place to share.”
The completed installation somewhat resembled an avenue of clotheslines hung with flower-stuffed burlap pouches.
Possibly the most monumental installation on display was a progression of four Vs (as in Victory) by the flagpole area of the park. Team members assembled the V stationed on the Boylston Street sidewalk from metal ductwork and cinderblocks — a chunk of industrialization in an urban setting. As the viewer enters the park, the Vs become successively more organic and approachable: a V made of wood gives way to one festooned with vegetation and adorned with roses. The fourth V (a sort of raised bed filled with soil) lies unassumingly on the ground and encourages the passer-by to perhaps plant a seedling. The leafy V was bedecked mostly with Japanese knotweed: maybe the best use of this invasive?
The Common Boston Common Build Competition jury reveals its prizewinners at a ceremony on Wednesday June 27 at 7 P.M. at the Boston Society of Architects, 290 Congress Street. Visit http://commonboston.org/ to see how your favorite installation fared with the judges.