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The Christian Science Plaza

Boston, MA

Studio 431 Custom Elements:

Custom FSC Ipe benches with copper inlays and inset signage 

Design Partners:

IBI Group

Team Members:

The First Church of Christ, Scientist; Redgate; Consigli Construction Co. 


Boston Preservation Alliance: 2022 Preservation Achievement Award


Look up and you’ll see the traditional façades and domed rooftops of the 1894 Original Mother Church edifice and the 1906 Mother Church Extension edifice. The First Church of Christ, Scientist (TFCCS), in Boston, Massachusetts is known as The Mother Church and is the home of the worldwide Christian Science Church. At street level, you’re met with the angular, Brutalist stylings of renowned architects I.M. Pei and Araldo Cossutta who designed the ten-acre open-space plaza in the late-1960s. 2015 opened yet another chapter in the design history of the Christian Science Plaza as architectural consultancy IBI Group embarked on a multi-disciplinary revitalization of the Plaza. The renovation project was a balance of preserving, repairing, and restoring the character-defining features of this Boston Landmark landscape while improving sustainability, introducing more spaces to welcome visitors, expanding seating opportunities, and improving year-round usability. "In the '70s when the plaza was first created, the context was very different—the surrounding neighborhoods did not have the same character as they do today,” explains James Kros, associate at IBI Group and Project Manager for the Christian Science Plaza revitalization. "The Plaza began its life somewhat isolated from its surroundings, so moving into 2015, the idea was to remove those subtle barriers and make it more welcoming to the community.”

Studio 431: A Full-Service Team

IBI Group called upon Landscape Forms' Studio 431 custom team to engineer and manufacture the bench seating that would bridge the plaza’s different architectural styles, providing a welcoming character year-round while still staying true to the site’s historic roots. James Kros explains, "One of the challenges was the Christian Science Plaza is designated as a Landmark, which in Boston means there are restrictions on how you can alter the existing character of the space. So, a big part of our task was to reproduce, in some way, these big monolithic benches—essentially giant slabs of precast concrete—that were installed in the 1970s. Precast concrete isn’t the most comfortable in cold winter climates, so we decided to go with wood. We needed to retain the size, shape, and overall aesthetic but we knew we wanted to warm up those benches to extend their use into colder seasons,” Kros describes. Studio 431 joined IBI Group early in the design process of the Plaza’s new bench seating, using its breadth of expertise in everything from project management to engineering and specification to streamline the custom process. "We came into the seating project with simple SketchUp models of what we wanted to do, but those were essentially just to kick off the discussion with Studio 431,” says Kros. "They then went into detail with the engineering, refinements, and providing valuable insight for details such as hidden fasteners and the cost-benefit of member sizing.”

"Studio 431 took the lead on engineering and constructability both in the factory and the field."

– James Kros, IBI Group

"The collaboration in those early stages was one of the best aspects of working with lead engineer John Shimer and Studio 431,” adds Nick Healy, Senior Associate at IBI Group. "John was plugging our details into 3D models that could then be viewed and manipulated within the space to ensure the intent was being met.”

“IBI developed a great working relationship with Studio 431 during design development and construction, resulting in a well-executed final product.”

– Nick Healy, IBI Group

The seating system that Studio 431 and IBI Group arrived at was a series of large-scale benches that took inspiration from the Brutalist concrete monoliths that came before, but translated the material to an exterior grade hardwood that is naturally resistant to rot and decay, weathers beautifully, and brings warmth and softness to the space during Boston’s frigid winters. All five bench designs are made from 316 stainless steel and FSC Ipe wood. Select benches feature a copper inlay, and others highlight a message: The word “Welcome” in 12 different languages set in bead-blasted 316 stainless steel lettering. Welcoming all members of the community to the Christian Science Plaza is exactly what these custom Studio 431 benches did, not only in their explicit message, but also in their design, their materials, their placement, and their overall presence. "Speaking in a larger, more conceptual way, five of the seven big gestures that create a welcoming atmosphere in the Plaza were supported by these Studio 431 custom benches” concludes Healy. "The sunken garden has a beautiful circular bench. The two major throughways to the Reflecting Pool, those have four substantial platform benches, and at the permeable edge along Massachusetts Avenue there are now thirteen new seating opportunities. These benches play an important role in greeting people at the entrances and provide a welcoming atmosphere at the Plaza’s focal points."