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Cambridge Day

Kendall rooftop garden to be razed for redesign, but its plants are getting out alive, with residents

Kendall Square’s rooftop garden is getting redone as part of a larger project at 325 Main St., but the garden’s plants won’t suffer – many are being taken away Thursday by residents to be cared for at home, according to the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority.

The Roof Garden Plant Giveaway takes place from 1 to 6 p.m. Thursday at the garden, with 15-minute slots assigned to let people get in and out with their greenery safe from coronavirus infection. The slots filled up fast and were gone by Wednesday afternoon, despite being announced less than 24 hours earlier. “I know this is a bit last-minute, but [developer Boston Properties] received their demo permit yesterday,” said Alexandra Levering, a CRA project manager, in a Tuesday email. The developer is “planning to start construction early next week, so we have to act fast.”

The garden has long been considered Kendall Square’s hidden gem, even after it was cut down in size in 2013 to make way for a structure connecting two Boston Properties buildings, giving employees of their tenant, Google, room to roam (and some private garden space for an Ames Street residential building).

The future garden is designed to be less hidden, with a new public staircase and elevator connecting to Kendall Plaza, as well as a second-level public terrace atop the MBTA headhouse.

A video by landscape architect Lemon Brooke shows a significant amount of paved area in the space being redesigned. There are tables – for sitting and eating as well as for table tennis – in a few sections and in different configurations and styles, from one that could seat many people in rows facing each other to round tables that seat four. In one area, swings and bench-style seating are placed around a gas fire table, one of two fire features to be installed. There’s a wall for projected movies, a community kitchen, and spaces envisioned for games: a court for badminton or volleyball, and a separate area for lawn games such as cornhole.

The rooftop garden has been through a few versions. A presentation by Lemon Brooke shows an avant garde area from 1981 that couldn’t look more 1980s and less pleasant to spend time in.

Landscape architect Richard Kattman said he was brought on in 2000 to modernize an inaccessible existing garden in a complex then owned by General Electric Capital. His much-praised design had a grand opening Sept. 18, 2001, and its 43,689 square feet lasted until August 2012.

That’s because in March 2012, the City Council agreed to give away 42 percent of the space to Boston Properties for its Google connector and Ames Street buildings. That cut the garden to 25,340 square feet.

The rooftop garden closed in April in anticipation of its new design. It is expected to reopen in the summer of 2022.