The Waterfield Block, a commercial block in the Town Center of Winchester, Massachusetts is bounded by the Town Green and by the commuter rail that has allowed Winchester to flourish as a bedroom community of Boston. While Winchester itself possesses many positive attributes typical of a classic New England community—stately civic buildings, commercial enterprise, residential building stock, a park system and waterway, a comfortable pedestrian scale—the Waterfield Block faces challenges that are also typical of these communities as they age and grow. Characterized by incomplete commercial edges and low-density surface parking, it is dominated by the commuter rail viaduct, a massive, elevated stone structure that regrettably bifurcates the Town Center.
AW’s urban design proposal for the Town introduces a strategy that co-opts the viaduct, transforming it into a compelling urban attractor that energizes both public and semi-public life. Through a series of subtractive operations on the viaduct’s mass, the Town Center’s geography is drawn into and through the infrastructure, establishing a new context for commerce, for a series of urban vestibules, and for living. The unmanned shelter on the elevated rails becomes a significant, elongated, translucent landmark. It celebrates rather than conceals. Finally, as it marries the urban plan’s different scales, this shed creates two perpendicular, symbolic conditions: a punctuating moment along the continuity of the rail line, and a defining epicenter of Town life. A neglected piece of infrastructure becomes a contemporary manifestation of optimism.