The Circle and the Res

July 2010

The Circle & The Res

Jul 1, 2010 4:35 PM
Chris Brown

The Circle & The Res

A vision for an urban, mixed-use, renewable energy redevelopment at Cleveland Circle and the Chestnut Hill Reservoir in Boston, Massachusetts.

Amory Architects Team Members:
TJ Hrabota. AIA
Chris Brown. AIA
Sukie Amory
David L. Amory. AIA



The Chestnut Hill Reservoir and its handsome Waterworks structures were the epicenter of 19th-century clean technology, celebrating the public works achievement of delivering potable water to Boston. Our design for an energy park, The Circle & The Res, celebrates 21st-century clean technology and knits together this jewel in the Charles River Watershed and the “ragged edge” at Cleveland Circle, where three municipalities meet and sometimes conflict over the use and maintenance of this urban natural resource.

  1. Carbon Dependency Reduction. A nexus of solar towers, windmills, geothermal wells and a vision for a Solar Parasol serving the abutting communities.
  2. Systems Diversity . Three sources of natural energy keep this local grid humming, even on a cloudy, still day.
  3. System Redundancy. Please see #2 above.
  4. Infrastructure Durability. The buildings that create a new Circle & Res Gateway hug the ground. We’ve imagined a Solar Parasol that can be furled, while the slender Solar Spire, Obelisks, and Windmills will withstand even the fiercest nor’easter.
  5. System Feedback Sensitivity. Our design makes the bucolic Reservoir more accessible to the surrounding dense neighborhoods for passive and active recreation, from early morning joggers to baseball leagues under lights powered by the energy park after dark. Any blip in the system will be noticed and reported right away.
  6. Local Self-Sufficiency. Our design creates a local energy grid. Green roofs and green space can be dedicated to community gardens and farmers’ markets.
  7. Responsive to Natural Systems. The Circle & The Res integrates 21st-century architectural, landscape, and energy design within a treasured resource created by visionary 19th-century engineers and planners. The channeling of vehicular traffic underground and the new Lily Pad island accessible from opposite shores brings pedestrians up to and into the Reservoir, the shimmering jewel in this once “ragged edge.”


Partial Map of Boston
Cleveland Circle (The CIRCLE) and Chestnut Hill Reservoir (The RES), highlighted in yellow, is five miles due west of Downtown Boston and lies in the great Charles River Watershed, which flows into the Charles River and on into Boston Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean.


The growth and development of cities create “ragged edges” – places where the fabric of urban form and landscape is frayed, often located between communities where shared goals and responsibilities are undefined and underfunded. But these neglected “no man’s lands” can be opportunities for regeneration.

One opportunity that urban planners have kicked around for years lies in Cleveland Circle at the western edge of Boston, where three communities converge – Boston’s Brighton neighborhood and the suburbs of Brookline and Newton. This congested intersection merges multiple public and auto commuting thoroughfares -- three electric trolley car branches (Green Lines B, C, and D, shown in green above), multiple bus routes, and  two busy streets (Beacon Street and Chestnut Hill Avenue). Pedestrians dodge cars, buses and trolleys to reach the playing fields and walking paths at the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, a stone’s throw west of Cleveland Circle’s busy commercial district.

 1 Cleveland Circle
 2 Chestnut Hill Reservoir
 3 Boston
 4 Brookline
 5 Newton
 6 Beacon Street (E/W)
 7 Commonwealth Ave.
 8 Chestnut Hill Ave.
Aerial view of the Reservoir and Cleveland Circle with Beacon Street leading east to Downtown Boston.

In 1870 visionary planners dug the historic Chestnut Hill Reservoir out of marshes to create the keystone of a regional water system, a paragon of advanced “clean” technology of its time, and an attractive destination within an extensive park and carriage way improved by the Olmsted Brothers. Today the 85-acre reservoir is bordered by three jurisdictions -- Beacon Street on the south (Brookline), Boston College on the west (Newton), wooded landscape and Commonwealth Avenue on the north and Cleveland Circle on the east (Boston). We envision restoring this “ragged edge” as the center of a 21st-century clean technology park that feeds a regional alternative energy system while drawing residents and visitors to enjoy passive and active recreation along the shore once more.

Cleveland Circle and Chestnut Hill Reservoir in Their Heyday

Historic images courtesy of the Brighton Allston Historical Society (

Historic Reservoir
Aerial view looking east over Boston College to the two basins of the original Chestnut Hill Reservoir. The Chestnut Hill Drive bisecting the two basins brought you right into the heart of the Reservoir. The Lawrence Basin in the foreground has been filled in by Boston College, leaving only the Bradley Basin on the far Boston side of the site.


Plan of the original 1870 Reservoir; today’s Reservoir is on the right. Note the Chestnut Hill Drive running between the two basins.



The Chestnut Hill Reservoir reminds us how public works projects were once celebrated as not only useful but beautiful civic achievements. The Metropolitan Water Board commissioned the Olmsted Brothers to help make the Reservoir a destination, as seen in this fashionable promenade along the Chestnut Hill Reservoir Gateway, built in 1870 and removed in 1895.



Chestnut Hill Reservoir’s 1888 High Service Station designed in the Richarsonian Romanesque style by noted Architect for the City of Boston Arthur Vinal.



Interior of Waterworks Building
Interior view of the High Service Station, now the new Waterworks Museum, with the original 70-foot-tall steam-powered pumping engine, the state-of-the-art technology of its time.



Electric streetcar introduced in the 1880's. At Cleveland Circle trolley cars ran around the circular track to reverse direction for the return trip to Park Street Station in Downtown Boston.

The Circle Today: The Ragged Edge

Cleveland Circle is a bleak, run-down, often congested intersection that people, cars, and trolley trains just can't wait to leave, a no-man's land home to overhead utilities, hazardous trolley tracks underfoot, chain link fences, acres of pavement littered with potholes, and an abandoned movie house. 

View west along Beacon Street into Cleveland Circle toward the Reservoir.



Mary Ann's Bar
People, cars, and trolley at Mary Ann's bar in the Circle.



 View to Pumphouse
Inbound and Outbound                         Traffic jam at the Circle                          
trolley cars at the Circle.                         approaching the Reservoir.



The Res Today: A Gem to be Discovered

Once you extricate yourself from the clamor and congestion of Cleveland Circle, you enter another world along the shores of the Reservoir, now held as an active emergency water supply basin. Once a delightful destination for strollers, it is still an oasis that planners struggle to make more universally accessible to pedestrians.

Waterworks High Service Station: today the Waterworks Museum.



View west toward Boston College.



Bank of the Reservoir 
Bank of the Reservoir.                             View east from the east bank toward
                                                                    Boston's Back Bay, John Hancock
                                                                    Tower, and Downtown.


A Vision for Sustainable Redevelopment

We propose a landmark destination for work, play, living, and learning that harvests sun, wind, and geothermal energy, and knits together that ragged edge through integration of community, sustainability, mass transit, mixed uses, landscape, and recreational open space.

Historic Reservoir

View to Boston over the Res and the new Circle & Res Gateway. Note the Green Line trolleys converging in Downtown Boston.


 Just as the 19th-century Chestnut Hill Waterworks celebrated the distribution of potable water throughout the city, The Circle & The Res celebrates 21st-century technology as public benefit – energy obelisks, windmills, a towering solar spire with an integral geothermal tap-root, and a photo voltaic “Parasol.”

Our design puts pedestrians and cyclists first by redirecting cars, buses, and trolleys below or short of The Circle. Just as the original plan brought traffic across the Reservoir on Chestnut Hill Drive (photo above), we bring pedestrians “into” the Reservoir on a sinuous boardwalk that allows you to cross the water from opposite shores, stopping at the Lily Pad to enjoy the views from a domed community pavilion and café.

Solar Obelisks atop mid-rise buildings with green roofs frame the new Circle & Res Gateway, centered by our vision of a Solar Parasol, a translucent checkerboard canopy of photovoltaic panels.


The Circle & The Res knits together buildings, landscape, and water for the enjoyment of all, with convenient access to mass transit, athletic facilities, playing fields, wading pool and skating canal, and a farmer’s market.

1   The Cricle 2   The Res 3   Waterworks 4  The Gateway
5   Energy Obelisks 6   Windmills   Solar Spire 8   Lily Pad
9   Geothermal Wells
10 Solar Parasol
11 Skating Canal 12 Boardwalk

Plan of the Circle. Note the green roofs under the energy obelisks.



A sinuous boardwalk connecting opposite shores leads pedestrians into The Res and onto the Lily Pad with sweeping views from the park and domed pavilion for café, concerts, and public gatherings.



Lily Pad
Lily Pad Pavilion with historic Waterworks Museum beyond on the far bank.



Lily to Cleveland Circle
View from the Lily Pad toward the boardwalk that hovers just above the water, leading to The Circle.



Original Gateway
The original 1870s Gateway to the Chestnut Hill Reservoir.

New Gateway
The new Circle & Res Gateway looking through new green roofs and windmills toward the Lily Pad on the water.



Cleveland Circle
The new Circle & Res Gateway looking toward Cleveland Circle and the city through the energy obelisks rising from sustainable, sun-worshipping buildings. We imagine a Solar Parasol as a translucent photovoltaic canopy that soars above The Circle’s public landscaped open space to collect energy, create dappled light, and channel rainwater down to an irrigation pool.



Geothermal Link
Res     Circle                                                                  Downtown Boston

Extension Cord to the City! Windmills and geowells line the Green Line trolley tracks to support the transit system and strengthen the regional power grid.



Harvesting the power of the Sun, Wind, and Earth for new work, new play, new energy, and new life.

 Amory Architects



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