Coastal Consideration: A Q&A with Reed Hilderbrand, PIER 4’s Landscape Architect

As the only Seaport residences surrounded by water on three sides, PIER 4 is known for its stunning panoramic water views and unmatched location along the waterfront. Each element of the development – inside and out – is carefully designed to pay homage to the water. The building delicately curves West toward the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) to provide each home with an uninterrupted water view and private outdoor space. The public space, which includes a one-acre park, Harborwalk extension, and Sea Steps, will provide residents and Bostonians with lush green space to enjoy along the waterfront starting this summer.

Developer Tishman Speyer tapped leading local landscape architecture firm Reed Hilderbrand to elevate PIER 4’s public spaces, marrying its form and function with the site’s natural beauty. We recently sat down with Eric Kramer, Principal and Partner at Reed Hilderbrand, to discuss why PIER 4’s public space is unique, and how it is designed to last and protect. Read on below for Eric’s insights:

A snapshot of the Harborwalk’s progress

What makes PIER 4’s landscape unique?

Despite its name, PIER 4 is not actually on an elevated pier, but rather is a broad strip of constructed land that extends into the Harbor. This solid ground framed by seawalls and stone revetments allows PIER 4’s landscape to support the rich vegetation that is normally associated with coastal New England and its rugged islands. We have sought to build a coherent ecosystem that feels like it belongs on the coast.

But PIER 4 is also an urban landscape: a plaza, an elevated lawn, and a dramatic flyaway extension of the Harbor Walk. As the neighborhood continues to evolve and grow, we think PIER 4 raises expectations for the kind of public landscapes available in Boston — strongly rooted in a regional ecology but also responsive to the 24/7 civic life. We think it will be unlike anything available today — to sit at one of the great outdoor restaurants with the backdrop the harbor framed by bold coastal planting.


Tell us about the inspiration behind PIER 4’s landscape design elements, in particular the Sea Steps.

PIER 4’s outstanding location gave us the unique opportunity to meld the amazing dynamic qualities of the ocean with the urbane electricity of the city.

The Sea Steps emphasize the interaction between solid ground and water, which can be tranquil or dramatic, like the city itself. As PIER 4 extends to the water’s edge, we created space where residents and visitors can interact, maybe even dipping their toes into the water as they eat lunch outside over the summer. Many rocky New England beaches possess features that are used in such a way. Some fortunate cities along the Adriatic have waterfront plazas that dip down to the water in this way. 


PIER 4 will deliver a one-acre public park this summer, following the building’s completion this spring. What was most exciting about that aspect’s landscape design?

PIER 4 is as close to a “living shoreline” as the Seaport has seen to date. To ensure long-lasting beauty and resilience, we used species native to the region and those well-adapted to the tough coastal conditions. As such they are rougher in texture, more mutable, more dramatic. Not only do they break the wind, shape views outward, and create intimate spaces, they also thrive in the salt spray, find homes in crevices within the rocky shoreline, and support each other in communities. Full of seasonal flowering plants offering changing textures, bold colors, and fragrances, the result will be a new kind of public garden to be shared by residents and visitors together.


What are the resiliency benefits to PIER 4’s landscape architecture?

We are fortunate that our work in Houston, New Orleans and on the Hudson River has taught our practice a lot about how plantings and landform serve to resist flooding and storms. Life on the New England coast requires plants and people alike to be hardy and resilient. Reed Hilderbrand sought to address this priority on a number of levels.

First, we worked with a coastal engineer to rebuild the seawall and coastal revetment to fortify the site, break wave action, and provide protected places for plantings. Other landscape features such as the planted ridge along the east side of the pier, an elevated landform that buffers the public space, and the Harborwalk flyaway are designed to resist severe storms and accommodate the now familiar King Tides. Soils are designed to drain quickly, flush salts and provide robust growing conditions for the pier’s vegetation. As Tishman Speyer and SHoP Architects have done with the building, Reed Hilderbrand has designed this important new Seaport landscape for longevity.   


PIER 4 will be completed this spring, with its public park, continuation of the Harborwalk and addition of the Sea Steps coming this summer.

Continue to follow our blog regularly for in-depth looks at PIER 4’s unmatched offerings, and follow us on Instagram and Facebook for other project and neighborhood updates.