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August 27, 2014

Wanted: ‘A great new bridge' for Seattle's new waterfront

Journal Staff Reporter

Photo by Benjamin Minnick [enlarge]
Seattle’s waterfront design manager Marshall Foster said of the Marion Street bridge: “I wouldn’t say it is ugly, but it does not sing.”

Travelers on the concrete and steel Marion Street Pedestrian Bridge that connects First Avenue and Colman Dock likely don't think of it as iconic architecture.

But iconic is what the city of Seattle wants in a replacement for the bridge, which ducks under the Alaskan Way Viaduct to carry crowds of people every day to and from the ferry terminal.

Seattle hopes to start building the new bridge in 2018 and finish it the following year. Qualifications are due by Aug. 29 from architectural/engineering teams to design the replacement. The contract amount will be between $1.75 million and $3.25 million, according to a notice in the Aug. 4 DJC.

The new bridge should be iconic, said Marshall Foster, Seattle's design manager for redeveloping 26 blocks of the central waterfront.

“It needs to make a statement,” he said. “It needs to really mark that as a place. Part of what we're trying to do is roll out the red carpet so that Seattleites come back to the waterfront. If we can get a great new bridge it just helps to define the waterfront as a great place.”

The structure must also be functional, easily maintained, have good lighting and weather protection, and be integrated with nearby historic buildings, the streetscape and Colman Dock.

Foster said the city is looking at some great bridges here and abroad for inspiration. They include T. Evans Wyckoff Memorial Bridge at the Museum of Flight and the Amgen Helix Pedestrian Bridge, whose double-helix shape is loosely based on the structure of a DNA molecule. Other waterfront bridges are also offering inspiration such as those on Madrid Rio in Madrid, Spain.

Photo courtesy Johnson Architecture + Planning [enlarge]
Johnson Architecture + Planning and KPFF designed the Amgen Helix Pedestrian Bridge, an elevated structure reported to cost $10 million.

Photo by Lara Swimmer [enlarge]
SRG Partnership and Magnusson Klemencic Associates designed this bridge on the Museum of Flight campus in Tukwila.

Foster said the total budget for the new Marion Street Pedestrian Bridge is $16.5 million — which is modest for what's being proposed, and “not gold plated at all.”

“We don't think an iconic, smart design has to be inherently expensive,” he said. “That's why having it be practical as well is important, is very important.”

The new bridge will follow the current alignment, starting at First Avenue and running along the south side of Marion and over Alaskan Way to Colman Dock.

Columbia Street and the other side of Marion were considered, but they aren't as direct to First Avenue and downtown, Foster said, and several businesses face onto the current bridge.

The construction date is contingent on completing the bored tunnel to carry SR-99 traffic through downtown and removing the Alaskan Way Viaduct, starting in 2016 or early 2017.

The city wants to select a design team based on responses to the RFQ, so it can work with the waterfront designers to come up with a bridge that fits within the larger project, Foster said. The bridge design is expected to be done by the end of 2016.

A temporary replacement for the Marion Street bridge will be built on an undetermined site after the viaduct comes down. The temporary structure is expected to be done before demolition starts on the current bridge.

The Marion Street bridge must be replaced because it hangs from the viaduct, Foster said.

Johnson Architecture + Planning and KPFF Structural Engineers designed the Amgen bridge, a large steel elevated structure reported to cost $10 million. It was lauded in 2004 by Sheri Olson, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's architecture critic, as “one of the most stunning recent architectural additions to Seattle.”

The city, Amgen, and residents of Magnolia and Queen Anne wanted to have a bridge over the railroad tracks along Elliott Avenue West “but you're not getting hundreds of people walking across it a day,” said Stevan Johnson, principal of the Seattle architecture firm.

Many people use the Marion Street bridge every day so the replacement could be a civic monument that says “this is Seattle downtown,” Johnson said.

The bridge also could recreate some of the great views that will be lost when the viaduct comes down, he said, by incorporating places to stop, wonder and enjoy.

Johnson called the design budget for the new Marion Street bridge “very healthy.” He said the simple solution for the designers is to think about maritime history, the waterfront and sailing, “but I think there's something less straightforward and subtler.”

That might mean focusing on the city's historical connection to the water. About 120 years ago the entire pedestrian bridge would have been over water, he said, because the shoreline was east of Western Avenue.

“It's a really interesting urban history that is pretty well disguised by the viaduct and commercial development,” he said. “There is something there that should be considered or at least thought about.”

Rick Zieve and Tim Richey with SRG Partnership worked with Magnusson Klemencic Associates to design the T. Evans Wyckoff Memorial Bridge over East Marginal Way, which had divided the Museum of Flight campus.

The bridge is intended to reflect the spirit of flight and technology. The shape is inspired by a contrail, a stream of crystallized vapor created in a plane's wake.

When it opened in 2008, Ron Royce of the Seattle Design Commission called it “an elegant piece of architecture” functionally engineered.

SRG is teaming with Arup to design the new Marion Street bridge.

Zieve said the project is an exciting design challenge that should attract firms from all over.

The new structure should speak to the future of Seattle and technology and innovation, while paying homage to historical buildings along its path, he said. It can help reconnect the city and the water, and offer views the current bridge can't.

The western end offers the greatest opportunity for iconic architecture, Zieve said.

“There's potential along the whole way, but when it gets beyond Alaskan Way, when it's reaching out to Colman Dock that's when it will be most visible,” he said. “Right now it sneaks under the viaduct, but when the viaduct is gone you'll have a bridge that is fully exposed. Bridges show their muscle when they can span long distances.”

Zieve said the new bridge can reinvigorate the path between First and Colman Dock.

Much of what people now think of as the bridge is actually an elevated walk with retail along it, he said.

Part of the challenge will be to determine if it makes sense to continue the elevated walkway aspect or go with all bridge, he said. Regardless, the structure will connect back to the retail to make the path exciting and safer, “and more like you're part of the city,” he said.

The architect said he likes the bridge's historic, quirky and gritty path, and called the section under the viaduct “a wild acoustical experience.”

As for the bridge itself, Zieve said “I think it could be considered visually challenged.”

Johnson called it “ugly as sin,” but said it's a product of its time and circumstance: It was built to be functional not pretty and it had to make a contortionist jog under the viaduct.

“It's a tight design problem and a budget-driven solution, and it was also done in a time of construction when the materials they used were very common,” Johnson said. “It's just what they did. It's an industrial bridge.”

They designers were not aiming for iconic, he said, “They were looking for an efficient way to get people from Colman Dock to First Avenue to downtown.”

Foster called the bridge a basic utility.

“I wouldn't say it is ugly, but it does not sing,” he said. “It does not speak to you at any level. It's as minimal as you can be.”


Lynn Porter can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.

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