MIT prof sees beauty in overpass

August 31, 2012
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(Photo by David Friedman) The massive arches in the Casey Overpass piers at the Forest Hills T Station are captured in one of David Friedman’s photos.

FOREST HILLS—The Casey Overpass is doomed to demolition and widely considered one of the ugliest structures in Jamaica Plain.

But a professor of architectural history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has spotted beauty and drama in the overpass’s massive piers and subtle curve. This spring and summer, David Friedman captured some of those details in black-and-white photos, which he recently shared with the Gazette.

“The Casey Overpass has its own beauties,” Friedman said. “It’s a grand, monumental structure, and the spaces below the roadway have a lot of potential.”

The overpass, which carries State Route 203 over Washington Street and the Forest Hills T Station, is slated to be replaced by a new network of surface streets called the Casey Arborway, starting next year. That plan came amid heated community debate and a rejected alternative for a new, smaller bridge that better used the space beneath it.

Friedman said he read about the plans and debates in the Gazette, but that his main interest is in the existing overpass. He said he is especially interested in the space beneath it and lessons that might be learned for better using other “roofed areas” in the city. The area under the overpass is concrete, asphalt or cobblestones and used only for parking or bus stops.

“Despite the fact that the potential of the ground below the Casey Overpass has never been exploited and that the spaces it covers have been allowed to become derelict, the scale of the piers and the complexity of the spaces still makes a powerful environment,” Friedman wrote in an email. “This is much better captured in images than words. So I made some photos.”

“What it means for the decision about Forest Hills, I don’t know,” he added, “but I think we should at least realize that the situation as it exists, whatever its limitation, has some significant virtues.”

Friedman noted that his academic work is about historical cities, not urban planning. He approached the overpass as a photographer rather than an academic, he said.

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