More than a way to move from point A to point B, the Bridge of Glass is an important, energized public experience. As such, it was important to allow people to pause, sit, look and be absorbed in Dale Chihuly’s art, which is the focal point of the bridge itself . In developing the design, we studied some of the inhabited bridges of the world, including Ponte Vecchio in Florence.
When open in August 2002, the Bridge of Glass will provide a crucial pedestrian connection between Tacoma, Washington’s waterfront and its developing historic/cultural district. Both areas are undergoing extensive urban revitalization which, until now, have been physically separated by Interstate 705 and the rail lines of Burlington Northern Santa Fe. The $10.7 million bridge is 482 feet long and 20 feet wide.
The concrete and steel bridge grows from its context, the transportation artery below encompassing the Interstate and train tracks. While the massive supports have a powerful, structural presence, their purpose is to support pedestrians and glass art works. The contrast between structural strength and artistic delicacy is a deliberate juxtaposition substantial structure holds up something that is extremely delicate and fragile.
A key design feature is the 40-foot Crystal Towers rising above the bridge’s center section. The twin, multi-faceted compositions are both a grand urban gesture and a new landmark for Tacoma. As the towers flank the inbound side of the freeway, they also serve as a visual gateway to downtown.
The two pavilions are semi-enclosed rooms designed to envelop visitors in the world of Chihuly’s glass work. The minimalist design provides a neutral frames for the art and to visually suspend the glass pieces in midair. Solid edges create an element of surprise, preventing visitors from seeing the contents until they get inside. Especially in the Seaform Pavilion, the effect of structure and glass is similar to a kaleidoscope or an underwater odyssey. With active truck and train traffic below, the pavilions shield pedestrians from noise and wind.
Light is obviously critical to the enjoyment and animation of the glasswork. Tinted, translucent glass panels illuminate the southern and northern sides of the pavilions, allowing viewers to immerse themselves in the experience without distraction. Hand-wrought, blackened stainless steel frames support the installations; their satin matte finish is both neutral and non-reflective.