Architecture Minnesota
The Magazine of AIA Minnesota

September - October 2007
Vol. 33 No. 5
Editor's Note

A bridge fell down in our community.

We know that it shouldn’t have happened. Lives were tragically lost, and our hearts go out to the families of the victims. The collapse has raised a number of significant questions and shaken our trust in professional expertise and governmental oversight and stewardship. These issues will be debated and discussed in the coming months and years. But it’s not too soon to imagine how we might move forward in the most productive way.

So, a bridge must stand up again. What should we expect as a community? Will it be our bridge?

Clearly, we are not going to rebuild the same structure in exactly the same way. A new bridge has to be designed, and as architects we know that design is informed by underlying values and defining a project’s goals. We also know that process can influence outcomes. Let’s take a moment to imagine how we could approach this challenge.

One obvious approach would be to rebuild the bridge. This course falls squarely within the purview of the Department of Transportation and involves addressing conventional transportation and structural-engineering issues: volume of traffic served, structural design, cost analysis, safety measures, ease of maintenance and inspection, and so on. MnDOT already has revealed a plan, and I expect that this process will result in a functional and safe bridge, one that optimizes through traffic and is likely to be implemented quickly.

The second approach would be to build a new bridge. How might this differ from rebuilding?

This tack could look at history and recognize that change has occurred in our communities since the federal interstate system was implemented in the 1950s and 1960s. This system was an amazing feat of national will, but the highways and bridges divided and disrupted neighborhoods in the process. Communities throughout the country still feel the effects of this national policy.

Downtown Minneapolis has changed. The riverfront, on both sides, is seen as an amenity to be appreciated, no longer a transportation corridor. The Stone Arch Bridge has become an essential pedestrian and bicycle path. The underbelly of the new interstate bridge will be a public place.

In the past 50 years, we’ve taken increased ownership of our streets, our neighborhoods, our cities, our lakes. We’ve taken responsibility for our city’s bridges, like the Hennepin Avenue bridge, which celebrates the crossing of the river without sacrifice to function or safety.

A process should be articulated that encourages appropriate community input into the bridge design. In addition to addressing transportation and public-safety objectives, this process would give citizens and area residents an opportunity to participate in helping to define the design objectives. Alignment and height, visual opportunities, integration of public transportation, noise impact on adjacent neighborhoods and the river valley, and how connections are handled and improved at University and Washington avenues are all valid design considerations that don’t necessarily imply a more expensive design or a significantly longer schedule.

The bridge disaster has fostered a strong sense of community in Minnesota. Let’s believe in our community’s ability to intelligently and respectfully contribute to the design process. What better memorial to the victims of this disaster than to fearlessly raise a better bridge?

Thomas DeAngelo, FAIA
American Institute of Architects Minnesota