Transportation bridges as an element of civic architecture, urban design and placemaking
I use the example of the Tempe light rail bridge a bunch as an example of how transportation infrastructure can be an element of civic architecture rather than merely an enabler of conveyance.
In the DC context, spurred on by my involvement in the 11th Street Bridge Park project, I wrote a piece ("Anacostia River and considering the bridges as a unit and as a premier element of public art and civic architecture") suggesting that DC Department of Transportation consider the city's bridges in unison and make aesthetic attractiveness a key element in the design and construction of the city's bridges.
Now that bridge design is the precinct of the local department of transportation, DC doesn't take this kind of approach, which was typical during the time when the federal government ran the city. By contrast, in cities like San Francisco and New York City high quality bridge design has become a key element of community visual identity and brand--the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and the Brooklyn Bridge are in fact internationally known landmarks.
Flickr photo of the Connecticut Avenue Bridge by Jon D.
DC has a mix of bridges in terms of their contribution to civic architecture. The older bridges constructed to cross city parks and rivers generally were constructed in a time when design mattered.
An example would be the Memorial Bridge between DC and Virginia or bridges crossing Rock Creek Park, especially the Connecticut Avenue Bridge.
The newer highway related bridges are utilitarian, and that includes the newest bridges, such as the 11th Street Bridge or the New York Avenue bridge across the Union Station railyard in Northeast DC. The latter bridge has a particularly hideous piece of "public art," at least compared to more signature design elements of bridges constructed elsewhere.
Dublin Docklands - Samuel Beckett Bridge. Flickr photo by William Murphy.
In terms of modern bridges, many cities are choosing to build new bridges that are visually distinctive, many designed as it happens by Santiago Calatrava.
The lighting company Philips works with communities in creating cost effective but stunning architectural lighting projects on bridges and one of the company's websites features some of these projects, including the Dragon Bridge in Da Nang, Vietnam, which is becoming a key element of the city's identity and a tourist attraction.
Dragon Bridge, Da Nang. Flickr photo by Nghi Nguyen.
Similarly, Philips has produced a great video on the relighting of the Harbor Bridge in Corpus Christi, Texas and how this is creating a new focal point and placemaking element within the community.
including in Little Rock, Arkansas and Louisville, Kentucky among others.
But check out the Meydan bridges in Dubai.