« Emmons talks Coliseum to City Council and in Oregonian op-ed | Main | Coliseum threat, Rose Quarter folly gaining traction in national, international media »


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


No offense, but if we keep looking at our problems/solutions from a black/white, liberal/conservative, pro-design/design doesn't matter so much- we'll continue to be stuck in this unnuanced approach to problem solving (i.e., my side vs. your side).

If it's a beautiful bridge, will more people want to drive over it? (i.e., more car pollution, more expansion into the 'couv, etc.)

Let's make this thing as easy as possible for light rail, bikes, peds, and goods to get through. Remember how we're supposed to be green oriented? Let's not glorify the car by building a monument to it's ability to get across the Columbia. Yes, design is more than aesthetics, but sometimes we can get so caught up in design that we don't realize the full implications/unintended consequences of the final product.

If anything, keep the bridge "ugly" and put a cafe/bar/restaurant/viewing area that arches over the bridge's roadway that is only available to light rail, bikes and peds; and that offers a unique "reward" available only to those not driving a car.

Actually, this would be using design, but in a way to promote greener behavior.


“The aesthetics should not be driving this conversation,” Kulongoski said from his press conference at a MAX station near the proposed bridge. “The economy should. And the thousands and thousands of family wage jobs when we start construction of this new bridge.” from this Portlandarchitecture/Brian Libby post

Presuming that the conversation he's referring to is the long-term overall conversation surrounding the CRC proposal, rather than the conversation of just that day...it seems a mis-statement to suggest that aesthetics are driving the conversation about what and when to build over the Columbia River between Portland and Vancouver. Aesthetics should be, and have been a consideration made in the conception of this design, but many other factors, such as need, technical design, and logistical challenges related to construction have received far greater attention than aesthetics in ironing out details of the CRC proposal.

Kulongoski must realize that when such an extraordinary investment of labor, time and monetary expense and material is invested in a project, it's foolish to abandon aesthetic design for expediency.

As to the question of Pearson Airpark, nothing I've had occasion to casually read in the last couple years leaves me feeling good about having Pearson decommissioned at its present location. A new replacement bridge might not be able to be built as spectacularly with Pearson present, but I think designers never the less could create something beautiful with a low-level design that wouldn't require that Pearson be decommissioned.


I agree with WS. I seem to recall historical preservation reasons for keeping Pearson Airfield. It's a part of Vancouver every bit as much as the Fort is.

The Glenn Jackson bridge may not be beautiful, but it's not in a very visible place except for the people driving over it to the best of my knowledge. I realize there are people who live near it, but it's not a downtown feature of the city, nor will be the new I-5 bridge. I work in downtown Vancouver, and while it may improve the appearance of the area, it's putting lipstick on a pig. Yes, I said it. Downtown Vancouver is pretty ugly, has no historical skyline at all, and has very little urban appeal.

As someone who drives to Vancouver from downtown Portland every day, I can say the bridge doesn't affect me very much. There are much more majestic bridges upriver, but they don't define the cities they're located in.

John Russell

Before you go calling for Pearson field being decommissioned, let's make a note of the fact that it's the oldest operating airfield in the United States.

I'll hold back my comments about the project in general, but in terms of design, why can't we keep the Vancouver side relative low-profile and do something architecturally pleasing on the Portland side of the river?


RE: PEARSON... First, the National Parks Department (keeper of Fort Vancouver) has made it clear they want to regain the land now occupied by the West end of Pearson. They have let the airport continue operations for just 3 more years. After that, it is up for review. Second, as times change, so too must the landscape of a city. Just as the Swan Island airport was closed in the fifties and PDX established, and the rail yard where the Pearl District now lies, Pearson must be relocated to allow for the natural and necessary growth of Vancouver. General aviation is dead, or nearly that, leaving Pearson a mere novelty. It is time we make hard decisions and prioritize our values. Designing a mediocre $4b slab through downtown Vancouver will do damage for decades. And lastly, Ted is horribly mistaken if he thinks this project will have any impact on the current recession. Even optimists concede construction is many years away. Right now, the project is just siphoning ODOT money ($30 million this year) which would be better served maintaining our existing facilities.


and John, the North end of the bridge must be the tallest side to accommodate river traffic, which must be aligned with the ancient downstream railroad bridge. The rail bridge is not part of the package, and can not be funded as part of the project, nor has there been any planning or DEIS to that end.


Its weird to hear aesthetics as either/or. I don't think people who want a visually pleasing design are desiring some kind of monument. The built environment around us should be pleasing over brutalistic and it doesn't have to overwhelm a budget to get it there.

Thank goodness Conde B. McCullough came along to design Oregon's bridges along the coast, and that he was not thwarted in his work - otherwise we'd have a bunch of brutal utilitarian bridges mucking up our visual environment.

Maybe we can think in terms of honoring the work of great Oregon engineer designers like McCullough by treating this bridge as an opportunity to bring together design and engineering to make utility of improving the world around us.

Oregon & her great engineering designed bridges:


Rushed development is not sustainable development.

If we need to hurry up build a bridge for jobs, we should build the new Sellwood Bridge. The Sellwood Bridge Project’s public process has created a design direction with a lot of public support and the need is critical.


"Its weird to hear aesthetics as either/or. I don't think people who want a visually pleasing design are desiring some kind of monument. " ---keith

Keith is dead on. And I'll add this. The notion that "aesthetis" is a standalone discipline is deeply problematic at best.

Brian's most poignant moment, "...design is more than exterior aesthetics and attaching pieces of things we like..." is easily missed. And that missability is why it's an essential problem.

His closing comment, "icons aren't superficial desires, but anchors of all the economic, cultural and social prosperity we seek" is epic.

Nice blog Brian. Thanks.


If this bridge is going to be built our leaders on both sides of the river are going to have to get serious. The idea of good design for the CRC is a bigger issue than "aesthetics." By building the CRC the folks of this region will be giving up road money that be could be going to other necessary projects. The project already has several strikes against it. It's expensive, there isn't even a consensus on how big it is supposed to be, no one is really even sure how it is going to be paid for. Adams seem ambivalent about severals aspects of the CRC, Bragdon has basically shrugged his shoulders, and it seems like Leonard is for it because it's source of union jobs. No one has really sold this bridge to Portlanders. The fact that Ted the K felt the need to bring up the design issue shows the crosswinds that this project is up against already.

A great (or even a good) design can be something that seizes the public 's imagination and cause them to actively support the project. The idea that folks on the Oregon side are going to kick in money for a Marquam bridge on the Columbia is a fantasy. Getting MAX to Vancouver or better bike route isn't really going to cut it as a rallying cry. Portlanders need a tangible reason for them to support a bridge that most will seldom use when there are cheaper options available.

This attitude that Pearson is non negotiable is nonsense. Cities change and someone needs to seriously look at the cost/benefit of closing Pearson for a new bridge.


In my opinion, 'the aesthetics' is merely the pander-op Ted the K has been waiting for.


Here's a great Steve Jobs quote that applies: "Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like… People think it's this veneer -- that the designers are handed this box and told, 'Make it look good!' That's not what we think design is. It's not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works."


Any bridge will have 'aesthetics'
but they may be unfashionable. We
lived thru the M.Graves Portland Bldg

There is a Design to put a Park-Roof over the concrete slab
that DOT will build. The Park-Roof will absorb CO2 24/7 , and greatly lower the Carbon Footprint
of the CRC. The Park Plantlife will capture Rain Driven Pollution Runoff , saving a fortune in Treatment Costs and Salmon Protection. This will pay for the Park-Roof in time.

A beautiful arching park will connect the people on both sides
and put needed greenspace near both inner-city areas.

The Park-Roofed Bridge will be
aesthetically pleasing to a large group of folks. It can be our Golden Gate Bridge , a Green Gateway to the NW!


That was a helpful reminder mongoose offered about the National Park Service seeking to reclaim land Pearson needs to function. I can see some merit in the NPS obliging Pearson to sacrifice its land so as to expand educational benefits Fort Vancouver might offer to the public.

I'm not so impressed with the idea of obliging Pearson to move so that a future CRC bridge can have some cool looking suspension cable towers.

Actually, from an aesthetic perspective, I'm pretty happy with the bridges that are there right now. For a low level bridge design, I think the Burnside Bridge in Portland looks great. A good looking bridge does not have to reach for the sky with elaborate webs of iron work and cables for it to be beautiful. Such designs can of course be beautiful, but even in a low level design, as I said earlier, beauty can be achieved if designers are allowed to put effort in that direction.

The Markham Bridge in Portland (a slab, though a high one) didn't have to be the butt-ugly monstrosity it is had designers been directed to use a little imagination in its creation.


Tying in with what you said, ws...

Unfortunately that butt-ugly monstrosity (is this where BUM comes from?) is right in the very heart of the downtown, and is not only a visual canker sore, but a noise and air quality nuisance as well.

A bridge that is part of a downtown, like the new light rail bridge will be, needs to take a little more concern with (okay I'll say it) aesthetics, as well as the noise and AQ issues.

But one that is built outside of a (down)town, or not easily seen from the downtown, or isn't part of a beautiful drive (coast, gorge) needn't have so much aesthetic expense put into it. A clean simple, yet highly efficient design might be the most cost-effective approach.

Money saved by building something simpler for the CRC could be money put into taking care of the Sellwood Bridge, where greater investment in the aesthetic appeal would make more sense- it's more of a downtown bridge.


"...needn't have so much aesthetic expense put into it. A clean simple, yet highly efficient design might be the most cost-effective approach." --- pylon

So, the unaesthetic bridge should be clean, simple and efficient. What should the aesthetic bridge be?

I submit that pylon's "put into it" is a problematic thinking of aesthetics.
Aesthetics...the cherry on top. Yum!


I'm not worried so much about the design as I am about placing bikes and pedestrians on the lower level of the bridge. Yes it will be covered but it will also become a haven for street kids, bums and muggers. That part must change for this bridge to be successful from a functional perspective.

Double J

Thanks for weighing in on this today Brian. I had a bet with myself that you would take the Gov to task for trying to marginalize this as a mere aesthetic or sculptural concern... Instead the CRC issue is Design with a capital D and it matters. If bigK wants consensus to sell the bridge, he needs a better design.

What I think people are calling for is a good design process, not the bass-ackwards thing that has taken place so far. The only way to fix this is a design
competition. I called for one nearly a year ago and PORT reiterated it last week.

This thing can be improved significantly... and the trick is to get a serious architect in charge of this... one who can negotiate airfields, governers, mayors, greenies, commuters, two wheelers, salmon and cheapskates. It's going to take someone who is very talented and a true design competition would be far cheaper than this terrible and broken process has already cost.

By ignoring design concerns the current process has turned out something stillborn and wasted taxpayer money. Good design doesnt have to cost more but it does take better thinking and something way beyond Touchstone's capabilities.

Design Competition Now... and dont be surprised if it doesnt cost less than the crap design the failed process has currently produced.

Brian Libby

Love the Steve Jobs quote posted by Valarie. I've just added an abridged version of it to the original post.


Here's a superb hifi example of Jobs' quote. Everything about the design is based on form follows function, and the designer's goal of minimal room interaction with the projected sound...



If you have not seen the current and most ugly proposal to date, here is a link to the Oregonian's story (which is not yet archived):


To me it looks to have taken inspiration from the Bonneville Dam or a SeaWorld exhibit.


That's not inspiring..


sorry, did someone mention that the bikes and peds were being put on a separate level under the auto traffic? really? first, why do cars get the view? second, if this is a measure to avoid exposure to the elements, it won't work. i'm no expert on this, but isn't it known that pollutants drift downward - as they are heavier than air? just sayin...


It's still gonna be a big ass bridge no matter how you shake it...I think making an effort to reduce the materials that are needed much like they did with the bridge that collapsed. I think that in itself would be a good movement for this bridge.

As for "aesthetics," can anyone think of a 12 lane bridge in the world that they love?


Have you seen the original design of the George Washington Bridge, where the towers were encased in granite resembling two massive Arc de Triomphes? The granite was never added due to the depression.

The bridge has 14 lanes of traffic and while it was no Calatrava, the concept was much more grand then anything I have seen proposed for the CRC.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Lead Sponsors


Portland Architecture on Facebook

More writing from Brian Libby


  • StatCounter
Blog powered by Typepad

Paperblogs Network

Google Analytics

  • Google Analytics

Awards & Honors