On Pedestrian bridges

The City has decided that the architecturally-significant design for a bridge over the Canal at Fifth Avenue should be “value engineered” to a simpler, cheaper design. Fewer things to go wrong, etc. Which prompts me to recall seeing a Calatrava bridge while strolling in Zurich last fall.

Santiago Calatrava is busy designing bridges and train stations and other buildings very differently from mainstream architects. His structures are a tight blend of architecture and artistic beauty. While complex engineering impresses some, his structures are easily understood and admired by the great unwashed public, which may be why some other starchitects disdain him. Of course, with starchitecture, cost over runs are common.

Back to Zurich, and its secondary train station:


On the plaza in the foreground of the picture there are a couple of train-station related buildings selling tickets, snacks, etc. The train platforms are at ground level in the back of the picture. There are streetcar tracks in the foreground, where transit mixes with pedestrians without the benefit of 6′ chain link fences. There is a staircase going down towards the right side to access the far train platforms; and stairs going up to the curvy structure that ascends over the platforms to a hillside pathway and then on-and-upwards to another neighbourhood. The first building at the top, behind the trees, is a high school, which accounts for all the students in the subsequent pictures below.

Here’s the Google Earth view:

zurich train station

Notice how the bridge span shown below has a rather sexy curve in it. Pedestrians using the bridge go up stairs on each side of the tunnel entrance, through a delightful occulus (or other body part of your substitution), continue along an irregularly curving walkway, and then into the stair tunnel on the far side of cross pathway. Others might descend into the bowels of the station to use the under-tracks passageway.


Yes, its almost  a birth canal.

The cross pathway runs above the train platforms shown in the picture below. It is partially weather sheltered. It has a cycle / service vehicle path and a slightly raised pedestrian path. People accessing the train platform can use the underground passageway or the overhead bridges. The overhead supports and railings continue to show flair and continue the organic shapes. The lines and shapes continue the criss-crossing curves over the top of the void where the tracks cut into the slope.

It was a pleasant place to be.




The station and plaza renovations feel very comfortable, There is no sense of someone imposing an alien structure on the place. There are no “straight lines” to jar the eye. It is very organic, very female, if genders can be assigned to architecture.

The same architect’s pedestrian and cyclist bridge in Calgary is totally different; he also has a similar bridge near Union Station in Toronto, both of which might be analogized to the male characterization in their long tubular shape [he means phallic, but won’t say it – Editor’s note.].

Compare both to the totally square Coventry ped bridge in Ottawa. Compare to the Airport Parkway Bridge. Or to the Hickory/Adeline bridge which Mayor Jim told me he thinks is “such a pretty bridge”.

Aim high or aim low, there is a choice.


Next: another Calatrava bridge, even more organic.

5 thoughts on “On Pedestrian bridges

  1. As disappointing as the new bridge design is (to me) compared to the previous version (or even older version), are the giant earthworks that are now on the east side of the span. A giant berm that northbound departing, southbound arriving folks will likely prefer to scramble up and down a la the hill behind Tom Brown arena. Doesn’t do much for the view of the canal from the driveway either. Same mistakes, over and over…

  2. Eric, although I appreciate the striking sweeping curve and three ‘V’ supports (including the one in the pond) of the older 5th-Clegg Bridge design, maybe it is better for the City to go with something that is VERY simple. Look at the City’s track record:
    Hazeldean Bridge over the Carp River – To be a ‘signature’, ‘gateway’, bridge, the span began to sag when the temporary supports were removed after construction. The ‘temporary’ support under the bridge had to be made permanent, for an added cost.
    Strandherd-Armstrong Bridge (Vimy Memorial Bridge) – To be a ‘gateway’ structure for those arriving via the canal. The construction firm went into bankruptcy, causing a long delay in the bridge’s opening.
    Pedestrian Bridge over the Airport Parkway – An iconic, ‘gateway’, bridge greeting people arriving at the Airport had numerous problems, well documented in the media, leading to long delays and added cost.
    Donald-Somerset Bridge (Max Keeping Bridge) – A simple, straight, bridge was opened ahead of schedule.

    Even Elizabeth Murphy, one of the City’s construction and design managers, appears to fear the idea of anything but a straight, simple, structure:
    “When you have curved pieces of steel, they are very, very specific to fabricate. They’re custom-made. They’re not off the shelf,” according to Elizabeth Murphy, program manager of municipal design and construction.
    Murphy said a straight bridge is easier to fabricate and install.”
    [Ottawa Citizen: http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/city-straightens-out-the-twists-in-proposed-canal-bridge-to-reduce-budget-risk%5D

    As much as I like to beautify the city when possible, it would seem that building economical, attractive, bridges is beyond the City’s capability

  3. Simplicity in design is always the most attractive and also easiest to properly estimate and build. (eg Mies van der Rohe). Contrived architectural sculptures should stay in parks There ought to be a panel helping the city to evaluate these efforts, both aesthetically and economically. We do not need any more overruns/.

Comments are closed.