Master Plan for Revitalization of the Canal System

Lowell, Massachusetts

The famous historic mill buildings of Lowell, Massachusetts have formed the basis for the city’s resurgence—but these assets are sometimes difficult to find among the city’s grid, and public spaces are lacking.

In the Master Plan for Revitalization of the Canal System, three students propose using a long-ignored, partially filled-in historic canal system as a series of public spaces weaving through the old mills. Their proposed canal-walk—a back-channel promenade through Lowell’s historic core—serves as a whole new way to experience the city.

Lowel Canals Lowell canal walk
The proposed canal walk and pedestrian bridge over a Lowell canal. Source:

Throughout the plan, the canals become the framework for a network of pedestrian and bicycle connections linking neighborhoods and downtown. A market complex near the train station is linked to downtown via a new canal, while extended street grids and consolidated surface parking lots open up land for development.

The project also envisions three new urban outdoor rooms. The first, the market complex, receives travelers from the train station, repurposing the underutilized South Commons into a community garden.

Lowell Canals Lowell redevelopment area
A 3D view of the canal redevelopment area. Source: Gina Cannistra, Ha Min Joo, Yazma Rajbhandary.

The second, a courthouse plaza, guides people towards the city’s main public park. The ground floor of the courthouse is opened to the public, increasing the permeability of the building. A bridge connecting the courthouse and the lawyers’ office building spans the newly created canal and road, guiding people on their journey to the heart of the city.

The theater, the last of the three urban rooms, aims to capture the space already created by the existing historic mill buildings. The outdoor stage is a bridge over the canal that utilizes a facade of an old mill as a backdrop. The theater establishes a prominent corner to create a new architectural marker, completing the downtown link.

Lowell Canals Lowell overview
An overview of the canal redevelopment area Source: Gina Cannistra, Ha Min Joo, Yazma Rajbhandary.

Each major space is anchored by a public building and associated function. The proposal includes a community theater with an outdoor amphitheater, a municipal courthouse and civic plaza, and a market complex supported by an agricultural commons.

New public spaces generate sites for infill development, for which the designers propose sturdy brick buildings to fit with the fabric of Lowell’s history—a story given a bright new chapter by this outstanding student project.

Top photo: The design promotes an active atmosphere around the canals. Source: Gina Cannistra, Ha Min Joo, Yazma Rajbhandary.

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