Beyond Walls

Architect: Payette

Owner: Beyond Walls

Location: Lynn, MA

Exploring how designers can activate connection through multiple interventions in the built environment, this project, a pro-bono effort, rallied the citizens of Lynn, Massachusetts, around art as a vital source of public engagement and civic improvement. To realize this, the team partnered with Beyond Walls, a collection of engaged citizens, to develop five distinct interventions. The emergence of COVID-19 prompted the two most recent, but all together they have significantly strengthened the connection between Lynn’s citizens and their physical environment while providing the corollary effects of enhanced safety and walkability.

For decades, Lynn had been facing economic and perception changes. To better support the city, Massachusetts Development Finance Agency, better known as MassDevelopment, made it a focus of its 2016 Districts in Development initiative. The effort highlighted several improvement opportunities that could be implemented quickly to attract new investment.

The following year, with MassDevelopment’s recommendations as a guide, the team began activating three of Lynn’s shadowy underpass spaces with dynamic LED lighting installations. Easily the most ambitious of all of the interventions, the 16,000 square feet of lighting required careful coordination with regulatory agencies and dozens of designers and tradespeople. The lighting has transformed those spaces from dark and dangerous to a visual representation of the city’s spirit and ambition. The $1.2 million project was funded entirely by gifts, grants, and in-kind donations.

With no electricity or plumbing required, the units are constructed from laser-cut sheet metal and feature solar-powered lighting.

Additional neighborhood meetings revealed the community’s desire for more public art and even more light on its underpasses and sidewalks. Those meetings prompted the city’s inaugural mural festival in 2017, which attracted artists from around the world, reflecting the city’s diversity, to paint on prominent walls. A year later, the city added 27 additional murals. Heralding the city’s industrial and commercial heyday, Beyond Walls also restored and displayed vintage neon artwork obtained from a Boston collector. These vibrant pieces of Americana provide added illumination and bolster the walkability of Lynn’s downtown core.

Last year, Lynn’s COVID-19 Vulnerable Populations Task Force recognized an immediate need for public handwashing stations to support public health and safety during the pandemic, particularly among the city’s homeless population. The team returned to install a series of stations, the first of which was located outside the Lynn Community Health Center.

Following the initial installation, the team enhanced the design of each station. With no electricity or plumbing required, the units are constructed from laser-cut sheet metal and feature solar-powered lighting. A foot pedal provides hands-free operation. The free-standing stations can be found in many high-traffic areas throughout Lynn, including parks, outdoor dining areas, and construction sites. Recognizing that social distancing may be a part of our lives for several more years to come , the team also developed an attractive barrier system to help make outdoor dining safe and accessible. Similar to the wash stations, they rely on laser-cut sheet metal for simple assembly. Each unit includes options for planters, lighting, or trellises.

Additional information

Lighting Designer: LAM Partners; Dan Weissman

Engineer - Electrical: BALA; Mark Deveau

Lighting Installation: Port Lighting Systems; Ron Kuszmar

Electrical Installation: IBEW Local 103; Scott Ellis

General Contractor: Neighborhood Development Associates


Mark Gardner, AIA, NOMA, Chair, Jaklistch Gardner, Brooklyn, New York

Lesley Bain, FAIA, Framework, Seattle, Washington

Katie Horak, ARG, Los Angeles, California

John Smoley, City of Minneapolis, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Dan Yudchitz, AIA, Leo A Daly, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Image credits

Beyond Walls-03

Warren Jagger

Beyond Walls-04

Warren Jagger

Beyond Walls-07

Warren Jagger

Beyond Walls-06