Not-so-stealthy Stealth Bridge

Studio Providence’s decision to not release its pedestrian bridge design to the ProJo for David Brussat’s July 29th column was not driven by a desire for secrecy, but by our respect for the committee’s interest in getting great design built in Providence and the review process that is evolving towards those ends.  Some of the comments posted on ProJo.com in response to Brussat’s column have been very insightful, including those by pablo fortuna:

If this is the new bridge to the Knowledge District it should be something bold and modern. This is a great opportunity to make a design statement for Providence as the Creative Capital. We have a half-dozen traditional bridges in Waterplace Park, let’s do something bold.

The claim of a secret conspiracy seems rather far fetched. As I understand it the committee has been meeting for months and they have been concerned that the designs submitted thus far, all by a single architect who was not selected by any public process, were too mundane and not worthy of the opportunity presented by this new site that will lead to the new Knowledge District — home to cutting edge research firms and the new med school.

Hearing of this frustration a local firm volunteered to sketch out an alternative just to get a discussion started — a design that has not yet even been shown to the committee. Their hesitancy to release the design to the public at this point comes entirely from a courtesy the new designers felt toward the committee and its deliberative process. As they have not yet been invited to show their design to the committee, it seemed inappropriate to suddenly be courting controversy in a newspaper column.

Instead the new team is urging the committee to consider opening the design process up to the public and to a variety of designers. To release their design to the Pro Jo before the committee has even seen it would be discourteous to the committee and disruptive of the open call and public review process they feel would best serve the city in this design process.

The charge in comments below about city taxpayer funds being wasted are also entirely wrong. If anything this is a great example of creative problem solving by the government and community leadership from the design community. We have now replaced a severely over-taxed and outdated I-195 bridge with a new bridge and a more thoughtful site placement of the interstate junction. As part of this exemplary project, much needed and much admired, the old bridge cannot be left as a rusting hulk, but must be removed with federal highway funds already budgeted for the new improved highway alignment.

Instead of spending $2 million on demolishing the existing stone piers, RIDOT realized they could preserve the elegant stone piers (the only attractive element from the original bridge) and recycle them and give the community a much needed pedestrian bridge with the money saved.

This was a brilliant example of our government working at its best. The Providence design community’s interest (all of them volunteering their time) in promoting a design discussion that would invite a variety of compelling and transformative bridge designs for the commtitee’s and the public’s review is equally proper and commendable.

Sadly an entirely false story about a non-existent “secret” cabal to force a horrific “modern” design upon an unsuspecting public seems to make for better newspaper copy.

One would hope that the real story of competent and thoughtful civil servants saving the public’s money while working cooperatively and cordially with a dedicated group of design professionals all volunteering their time would be worthy of coverage — and commendation — in a column dedicated to the design future of our downtown.

Perhaps the good doctor disagrees.

posted 8:21 PM on August 2, 2010 by projo.com member pablo fortuna

On thinking further about the good doctor’s concerns over alleged secret proceedings and his nostalgia for “traditional” approaches, some other observations seem appropriate.

Ironically, the “traditional” bridge design that Brussat is so stridently championing was actually the design that resulted from a “secret” process where only one architect was even permitted to present designs to the committee. But then again, a pre-determined selection process insuring a single favored architect must be better, because it is indeed a long-standing “tradition”.

That an honorable effort by Studio Providence to stimulate a public dialog over a variety of designs should be so entirely misrepresented in the newspaper as a “secret” “stealth” attack is indeed rich. For while disguised as a call for more public dialog, the column was actually the result of a classic insider leak and was intended as a preemptive strike against further dialog. The hope was to prevent the community from engaging in a more public review of a variety of bridge designs and to disparage a design not yet even presented for consideration.

Secret selection processes and irresponsible newspaper commentary deployed to obscure the truth for the benefit of the well connected are indeed quite “traditional” in the history of architecture.

But as Hamlet so aptly observed, there are some traditions more honored in the breech.

Let’s embrace a bold new world in Providence and welcome a public review of a wide variety of bold new designs. And may we boldly leave behind the tired “traditions” of political patronage, petty posturing and impoverished design.

Our city deserves nothing less.

posted 11:32 PM on August 2, 2010 by projo.com member pablo fortuna