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Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital

Landscape Performance Benefits


  • Reduces peak runoff rate for a 100-year storm by an estimated 23% and reduces runoff volume by 98,915 gallons for a 100-year, 24-hour storm as compared to pre-development conditions.
  • Provides habitat for at least 11 pollinator species, 9 bird species, and 1 canine species observed in the ground-level outdoor spaces and immediately adjacent areas.
  • Reduces air temperatures by an average of 4.3°F and surface temperatures by 19°F as measured on two summer days, as compared to a nearby vacant lot resembling pre-development conditions.


  • Provides a range of activity spaces, with 19 activity types observed on-site in the summer and 30 activity types reported by users through 190 surveys and 30 interviews. Most common activities include walking (60% of 220 surveyed and interviewed users), sitting and relaxing (58%), followed by eating outside (38%).
  • Positively impacts patients’ rehabilitation experience according to 85% of 61 surveyed and interviewed patients.
  • Positively impacts work performance and satisfaction with the work environment according to 90% of 89 surveyed and interviewed staff members.
  • Positively impacts the surrounding communities according to 98% of 45 surveyed and interviewed residents.


  • Created an estimated 64 jobs associated with ground-level landscape construction.
  • Created 4 year-round jobs and 8 seasonal jobs directly associated with the standard maintenance of the hospital’s outdoor landscape and grounds.

At a Glance

  • Designer

    Copley Wolff Design Group

  • Project Type

    Healthcare facility
    Waterfront redevelopment

  • Former Land Use


  • Location

    300 First Avenue
    Charlestown, Massachusetts 02129
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  • Climate Zone

    Humid continental

  • Size

    3 acres

  • Budget

    $4.7 million

  • Completion Date

    April 2013

Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital is situated at the confluence of the Mystic River and the Inner Harbor of Boston, Massachusetts. The site was home to shipbuilding facilities from 1800 until the Navy decommissioned the yard in 1974. In April 2013, Spaulding opened a new 132-bed facility in Charlestown Navy Yard, supporting 4,000 inpatient admissions and 140,000 outpatient therapy visits each year. As the Harvard Medical School’s official teaching partner, the hospital provides comprehensive rehabilitation treatment for a wide spectrum of injuries and illnesses. The selection of a brownfield site and its rehabilitation was intended to demonstrate resiliency for patients by showing that if a toxic place can become a place of healing, a broken person can also heal and become stronger. Taking advantage of daylight, views, and waterside settings, the landscape design responds to its waterfront location with an indoor-outdoor inclusive rehabilitative environment that invites the surrounding community to use the space. The resilient landscape also prepares the hospital to cope with the effects of climate change.

  • Remediate a former brownfield to build a leading rehabilitation hospital with world-class care.
  • Mitigate climate change risks with innovative, resilient landscape strategies.
  • Support the health of the Mystic River and Boston Harbor with sustainable design solutions.
  • Enhance healing services across the entire site with outdoor rehabilitation facilities and stimulate enriching exercises for patients through engagement with art and interpretive features.
  • Increase accessibility and visual connections to the natural environment to support wellness and faster recovery.
  • Fulfill therapeutic goals at certain times of the day and serve as a quiet, contemplative garden with a respite environment at other times.
  • Provide a soothing restorative environment for hospital staff to unwind and decompress with greater job satisfaction.
  • Integrate the Boston Harborwalk into the ground-level outdoor spaces and create a welcoming environment to bring patients and the surrounding community together through the landscape.
  • Provide outdoor public spaces with educational and leisure amenities for visitors and surrounding communities.
  • 80,000 cu yds of contaminated soil were remediated on site. To minimize costs and community disruption, remedial excavations were conducted concurrently with site enabling, seawall repair, and permitting for below-grade construction. Ultimately, the soil remediation program cleaned up the contaminated soil, achieving an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “unrestricted use” status for the rehabilitation facility.
  • The building’s ground floor elevation was raised 42 inches above the prevailing 100-year flood line and 30 inches above the 500-year flood line to safeguard against projected sea level rise over the life of the structure. The site is graded with gentle slopes and landscaping elements to accommodate this height increase.
  • Landforms such as swales and earth berms built with large granite blocks uncovered on site operate as protective reefs between the building and the waterfront edge, which deflect waves from hitting the building directly. They also function as therapeutic landscape elements for patients.
  • Compliant with Chapter 91, Massachusetts Public Waterfront Act, Spaulding Rehab’s ground-level exterior spaces are fully accessible to the public, and 75% of the first-floor facility is publicly accessible. Chapter 91 is the nation’s oldest program of its kind, protecting public rights and ensuring that private uses of tidelands and waterways are in line with legitimate public interests.
  • A therapeutic garden with a therapy trail provides public access and links to Boston’s Harborwalk, a 47-mile pathway along the harbor. A quarter-mile walking route circles the site, with engraved granite paving bands serving as distance markers. The project scope included construction of a Harborwalk extension and public dock, providing access to the Little Mystic Channel for Spaulding’s Adaptive Sports on the Water program.
  • Approximately 3,000 sf of stormwater planters and rain gardens located on site infiltrate and filter stormwater and prevent pollutants from going into Boston Harbor. Species in the rain gardens include London planetree (Platanus x acerifolia), red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), aster (Aster novae-angliae ‘Purple Dome’), marsh marigold (Caltha palustris), and purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’). 
  • The planting palette consists primarily of native species, including honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos), mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), winterberry (Solanum retroflexum), blueflag iris (Iris versicolor), white wood aster (Eurybia divaricata), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’), and bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi ‘Massachusetts’). The 20,000-sf therapeutic garden was planted with 15 canopy trees and over 5,300 individual shrubs, perennials, grasses, and groundcovers representing 50 species, 77% of which are native plants with seasonal interest.  An estimated 18,920 sf of pollinator habitat was created throughout the site through plantings.
  • The waterfront therapeutic garden and trail feature rehabilitative equipment and offer patients the opportunity to exercise on a variety of landscaped surfaces with gentle slopes to help their healing process. Sculptural rock forms on poles in the garden are therapeutic tools for building upper body strength, and benches and grab handles are built into granite walls along the therapy trails. A variety of outdoor seating heights and types in the landscape accommodate different rehabilitation needs. The railings along the Harborwalk were specially designed to allow wheelchair users to lift themselves up.
  • Accessible fishing railings are located along the waterfront in the east, and informational signage about fish species in the Harbor is integrated into a fish cleaning station.
  • 17 life-sized, bronze native wildlife sculptures were designed and placed throughout the site, including a loggerhead sea turtle, a great blue heron, sandpipers, piping plovers, double-crested cormorants, and numerous other creatures. These sculptures engage patients, staff, and community members while reflecting the rehabilitation goals of the facility and the region’s maritime history.
  • Once part of a timber receiving basin, the site incorporates recovered timbers as site furnishing for seating.
  • The creation of a compelling and accessible landscape can have a compounding effect. Spaulding’s landscape catalyzed the creation of Mayor Thomas M. Menino Park, a public park and inclusive playground just steps from Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. In 2013, Spaulding Rehabilitation Network created a temporary art installation on the land that would eventually become Menino Park, using reclaimed granite excavated from the site. Mayor Menino questioned the then-President of Spaulding before the hospital was formally inaugurated, “Who owns that space?” to which he was told, “You do; it’s the City’s.” Seeing the beginning of a transformation from a vacant lot to a usable outdoor space prompted the mayor to propose building a park specifically for children with disabilities. Soon after Spaulding opened, funds were allocated, and construction started. The city’s first fully inclusive playground was therefore a direct result of the momentum from Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.
  • It is important to coordinate with the city and other property owners along the property boundary. A standalone 150-ft black chain-link fence was erected by the City of Boston along the southern property line during project construction. The public Harborwalk lies beyond the fence, with a guardrail running along the water. Upon coordination with the city, this black chain-link fence could be potentially replaced with a more attractive landscape alternative, such as buffer planting combined with reclaimed stonework to accommodate the grade and material change.
  • The original planting design for the front garden along 16th Street called for a planting mix of 12 multi-stem Asian white birches (Betula japonica) and massive sedum groundcovers. This garden was built on top of the facility’s garage and is essentially an intensive green roof. Sedum thrives in dry conditions while Asian white birch tends to do well in well-drained soils as opposed to wet or poorly drained soils. Due to the excessive stormwater in the planting bed caused by heavy storms, neither species was successfully established. The white birch trees have been replaced with 12 native river birches (Betula nigra) with a diverse mix of grasses, shrubs, and perennials. The river birches can withstand more wet conditions for a prolonged time, and they are thriving. Planting design should evolve over time based on actual site conditions.
  • Spaulding’s landscape began to contribute to Boston’s social resilience immediately upon opening. 32 Boston Marathon Bombing survivors were among the first patients at Spaulding, and those patients’ rehabilitation continues to serve as a local inspiration. One patient’s recovery was even depicted in a biographical drama film “Stronger” in 2017.
  • Collaboration and project coordination are critical to project success. There were multiple designers and artists working on the project. The landscape design, architecture, art installation, stonework, signage design, outdoor rehabilitation facilities, and site furnishing were integrated seamlessly with a team effort.

Dog Waste Container: Glasdon
Upper Body Cycling Exercises: LifeTrail
Fish Cleaning Station: Ace Welding Co. Inc.
Portable Basketball Goal: First Team Sports Inc.
Dual Non-Coin Operated Binoculars: SeeCoast Manufacturing Co. Inc.
Ride Site Bicycle Racks: Landscape Forms
Rest Bench: Landscape Forms
Connect Wood Leaning Rail: Landscape Forms
Stainless Steel Site Bollards: New Hampshire Steel Inc.
Floating Rocks: Goric

Project Team

Client: The Spaulding Rehabilitation Network
Landscape Architect: Copley Wolff Design Group; Hoerr Schaudt (roof terraces)
Landscape Contractor: Franny’s Landscape Co. Inc.
Architect and Interior Design: Perkins+Will
Civil Engineer: Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc.
Structural Engineer: McNamara/ Salvia Inc.
MEP Engineer: Thompson Consultants Inc.
Lighting Designer: AKF Lighting Design
Marine Engineer: Vine Associates
Geotechnical Engineer: Haley & Aldrich
Environmental Consultant: Richard Moore Environmental Consulting
Medical Equipment Consultant: Source Atlantic Inc.
Accessibility Consultant: Institute for Human Centered Design
Artist Consultant: Boston Art; Skylight Studios
Site Interpretive Panels: Gamble Design
Salvaged Timber and Seawall Stonework: Sterling McMurrin

Role of the Landscape Architect

The landscape architect was responsible for planning, design, and documentation of the site design, including: community outreach, design workshops with hospital staff, development of an innovative exterior therapy garden, site resiliency and sustainability, grading, inclusive design strategies, collaboration with the design team, and City of Boston design review/permitting process.


Stormwater management, Populations & species richness, Temperature & urban heat island, Recreational & social value, Health & well-being, Job creation, Public art, Trail, Reused/recycled materials, Bioretention, Native plants, Local materials, Green roof, Active living, Health care, Mental wellness, Resilience

The LPS Case Study Briefs are produced by the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF), working in conjunction with designers and/or academic research teams to assess performance and document each project. LAF has no involvement in the design, construction, operation, or maintenance of the projects. See the Project Team tab for details. If you have questions or comments on the case study itself, contact us at email hidden; JavaScript is required.

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