Ropewalk

National Park Service

Charlestown, MA

Scope: Competition for a flexible community space, outdoor terrace, and branding concepts

This project reimagines a former ropemaking industrial site within the Charlestown Navy Yard as a community hub by creating a place for local school and resident groups. The activity created by a flexible meeting place brings a vitality to the National Park Service properties that is at once deeply rooted in the history of the place and helps it stay relevant to a new generation of Charlestown residents.

Located in the last remaining ropewalk building in the United States, the building is a quarter mile of granite stone masonry blocks punctuated by regular, square windows, a gabled slate roof and interior walls lined with brick. Designed by noted architect Alexander Parris in 1834 and influenced by his early experiences as a builder, the ropewalk is a utilitarian structure with sparing, simplified classical forms. The effect is a powerful celebration of the weight and mass of granite, a monumental construction that seems a challenge to the instability of the sea all around.

Our intervention, located in a 3500-square-foot space at the entry to the Navy Yard, is organized around maximum flexibility, in deliberate contrast to the solidity of the historic building.

Visitors enter the building passing by a glass wall that opens onto a space that at various times of day hosts tourists, school groups and community meetings. Modulations in the glass surface provide openings that animate the room as you move further into the building. The incredible length of the building is on display at the end of the corridor, with a glass wall that allows a clear view to the other end of the building. Moving inside the space, the original rail tracks that carried rope making equipment are visible in the polished concrete floor, where now they host the sliding furniture that can rapidly reconfigure the space for different purposes. Artifacts suspended overhead tell the story of the former industrial uses while leaving the floor open and flexible for use.

During the day, the space is used by tourists, with low benches scattered around the roof giving the room a relaxed coffee shop appeal that is a chance for a snack and place to get information about the attractions of the Navy Yard. At night, the benches are aligned in rows to host a neighborhood meeting. On the weekend, the furniture slides into set places along the walls create a clear floor space where a dance class meets