2014 was an interesting year to be an architect in Portland. After years of stagnation and small projects, almost every firm in town started the year with a flurry of new and exciting design opportunities. Many of these projects have already broken ground, while others will be coming to fruition later this year. While a lot of design occurred in 2014, not that many projects were actually completed. Last year we chose The Emery, designed by ZGF, as the best new project of 2013, and similarly, a few notable mixed-use apartment buildings were finished in 2014 including Works Partnership’s rather elegant 43rd & Division Apartments in Southeast and their Overton 19 building in the Northwest, THA’s 3330 SE Division project with its new take on courtyard living, and GBD’s extremely energy efficient Kiln Apartments up on North Williams. This year’s selection comes as an entirely different typology however, a piece of infrastructure that has created more place than any other single project in decades: Trimet’s new transit bridge, Tilikum Crossing.
Designed by MacDonald Architects, with HNTB and Trimet among others, the new bridge adds more than just a new transportation link to the city, it has created a there there, a sense of place that had not previously existed between the Marquam and Ross Island bridges. The new transit bridge connects two forgotten parts of the city, a derelict piece of Portland’s shipbuilding history with the industries built on top of the sawdust-filled swamp under the MLK Viaduct, both of which were seen everyday out passenger windows, but never thought of as a place to actually go to, to ever be at, unless of course Cirque du Soleil was in town. Now, these two places are forever woven into the central city fabric, not just physically, but connected in the minds of every Portlander: expanding what we think of as downtown and finally linking the South Waterfront to its surroundings.
Whether you are walking, biking, driving, or riding it is impossible not to take notice of the new bridge, it asks for our attention, softly speaking to us, asking us to join in, to come explore. It is now hard to remember what it looked like before, it’s almost as if the span was the missing piece of our bridge collection.
The two translucent peaks, which borrow the mountain’s white form, anchors the river, bringing it up into the air for all to see. It is amazing how such a simple gesture made of cast-in-place concrete and plastic covered cables can have such an impact on our internal geography. At first glance the new bridge’s lines appear simple, uniform and utilitarian, but as one views it from varying angles, the cables start to crisscross each other forming complex geometries and playful patterns. These contours then start to merge with and accentuate other nearby lines, lines of electrical poles, pitched roofs, and other urban forms.
As with most architecture, it took the hands, minds, and voices of many people from numerous fields to bring this bridge to life, and all of those involved should be applauded for their efforts. It is amazing that such a simple piece of infrastructure can have such a dynamic effect on a city, and one that cost less to build than we spent just studying the late Columbia River Crossing. The most dramatic addition is still to come, as we’ve only sampled Douglas Hollis and Anna Valentina Murch’s amazing lighting scheme which will start permanently illuminating the new bridge come September, when the Milwaukie-Portland MAX line officially opens.