Sunday, April 27, 2014

Fishbird Bridge

Here's a slideshow about NE Portland's Fishbird Bridge which crosses the northbound lanes of I-205 at the Parkrose-Sumner MAX station. The bridge doubles as the big public art piece for this MAX station, so this post is -- unusually -- both a bridge and an art post. TriMet's Red Line art guide describes the bridge thusly:

The "Fishbird" bridge, designed by Ed Carpenter, provides pedestrians access to this station platform located in the median of I-205. Being near the Columbia River and the Portland International Airport, the bridge is meant to suggest a creature which might swim or fly. Passengers on Airport MAX as well as motorists on I-205 are treated to dramatic views of the huge, enigmatic creature flying over the freeway.

Some tidbits about the bridge, from across the interwebs:

  • DJC profile of Carpenter from October 2001, shortly after the bridge (and the Red Line) opened
  • A portfolio page by the firm that did the custom wire fabrication for the bridge.
  • A blog about transit & urban planning reviewed the Parkrose/Sumner Transit Center and vicinity and found it wanting. The proposed solutions, as usual, involve adding density and pedestrian goodies and so forth. Which sounds nice and Portlandy; retrofitting dense urbanism to what's essentially a midcentury car-commuter suburb is easier said than done, though. Anyway, I increasingly worry that the word "density" is just code for gentrification, disguised as a value-neutral technical issue. I suppose the project numbers don't pencil out unless the buyers are rich Californians or something.
  • In 2001, Parkrose High School students in an after-school engineering program built a model of it, learning about math, engineering, and construction techniques in the process.
  • An August 2000 Oregonian article about the bridge's installation. It was built off site and trucked in for installation, not constructed on the spot. The paper's architecture critic spends most of the article explaining that we aren't spending enough on premium art, architecture, and design. It's not a goal I necessarily disagree with, per se, but there's something off-putting about how it's argued. It feels too much like a marketing pitch, I suppose, playing on the audience's insecurities: We need "signature" design to prove we're a Real City, much the same way that middle aged men need Porsches to prove that 48 and balding is the new sexy. I kind of ranted about the Oregonian guy a few years ago in a post about Collins Circle, a place he absolutely loved and I didn't. Maybe I've mellowed out a bit since 2007, or maybe I just can't get that worked up over a news story from 2000. Either way, I'm just going to say the guy did a great job advocating for the people he covered on his beat, but perhaps lacked a broader perspective on the needs of the city as a whole. That feels reasonably civil and polite. I think I'll leave it there.

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