Last night I attended a presentation at City Hall from architect Miguel Rosales on the new hybrid bridge being proposed for the Willamette River's new MAX and pedestrian/bike crossing.
Rosales called this "an important time" for Portland, and the bridge "an opportunity that will not come again for fifty or sixty years."
He said the design is based on three requirements: that it be memorable and not like any other, that it be technologically advanced, and that it fit the site. The cable-stay option for the bridge, which is the more off-the-shelf design, Rosales called "too tall" and "too common." In the 1950s it was unique, he said. Now cable-stay bridges are everywhere.
"To have a cultural impact, you need to innovate," he said. "A bridge, it's for everybody. It has an enormous influence."
More importantly, the cable-stay design would be bigger all around than the hybrid. It's towers would be significantly taller, and also much thicker than the hybrid because they'd need to be accessed from inside. The cable-stay's cables would also be more numerous than the hybrid, reducing views and transparency, and its cables would extend to beyond the edge of the bridge in a way the hybrid's wouldn't.
Rosales also talked about how the bridge is going to be a strong development tool. Before the Zakim bridge in Boston was built (from his design), that stretch of the river "was like the lost mile of Boston," he said. Now it's teeming with activity.
This was an encouraging point, because the bridge is being located in a counter-intuitive way when it comes to access for most Portlanders. Instead of being located close to downtown, it's being placed down by the South Waterfront district. So it's nice to know eventually this arguably ill-advised placement will work out.
In reference to the wave design that he previously said he liked best (and would have been the first of its kind), Rosales also emphasized that the hybrid bridge is "not a compromise." In fact, he added, "some things are better" with the hybrid versus the wave. It's more transparent, so people crossing will have a better view.
Even so, Rosales did not address some of the misinformation that has existed about the wave. Trimet advocated against choosing the wave because it was said to be more expensive. But that is not necessarily true, say the designers.
The hybrid will achieve its elegance, the architect said, from its cables. He compared the design to a well-tailored suit. This is probably a good metaphor, because the hybrid is indeed much more individually tailored to this site than the cable-stay. At the same time, most business suits, however well tailored, give off a conservative look. Maybe the wave would have been more like more casual designer clothing: Prada instead of Saville Row. (Trimet's cable-stay option being The Men's Wearhouse or J.C. Penny in this metaphor.)
Portland Spaces editor Randy Gragg served as the quasi-emcee for the talk, offering brief remarks before Rosales spoke (I believe he also helped organize the event). Randy seems to be arguing for the design community to get behind the hybrid concept and support it because the hybrid is decidedly better than the cookie-cutter-cable-stay. And he's absolutely right in that logic. The hybrid is a bridge we can love, or at least learn to love, and it's vastly better than the alternative that the engineers want to pull of the sales rack.
Even so, as one commenter said on my last post about the bridge, the misinformation being given out about the wave perhaps ought to act as impetus for re-opening the conversation to include it as a possibility. We needn't eliminate what may still be the best option simply in order to fight the worst one.
But again, if those reading this post decide not to support the re-opening of the wave discussion and instead to get behind the hybrid, I say: more power to you. If the hybrid bridge comes to Portland, we'll be better for it. As Rosales said, "You're going to win all the awards," if the hybrid gets built. There are worse things than that.