Walking across a pedestrian overpass is usually a little like spending time in a noisy, polluted hamster cage: Traffic whizzes by below, you’re surrounded by concrete and chain-link walls, and the goal is just to get to the other side as quickly as possible.
But a pedestrian bridge in Barcelona is being redesigned as a place where people might actually want to spend time. Surrounded by plant-covered walls, the new design includes shaded spaces to sit and look at views of the city. Smog-eating concrete helps clear the surrounding air, and glow-in-the-dark pavement lights the path at night.
The bridge, which passes over several lanes of traffic on a busy road, was originally designed mostly for vehicles. In its current state, before the new design is built, it’s a fairly typical overpass.
“The experience to walk the bridge is now as unpleasant as any other bridge over a highway with dense traffic,” says Toni Casamor, a principal architect at the firm BCQ. “Pedestrians have narrow spaces to walk, and the place doesn’t have any special interest. With this project, we’re trying to change this situation and reimagine the bridge as a pedestrian bridge–a nice place for people.”
When it’s built, the bridge could act as a mini-park. “We are sure the neighborhood will ‘colonize’ the space very quickly,” says Casamor. “Public and civic space is very important and very demanded by people in Barcelona.”
The photocatalytic concrete used in the new bridge absorbs pollution from the cars below. It’s an experimental product that the architects wanted to test. “Using this in reality will give the possibility to measure how much and how well it works,” says Casamor. “We don’t have much to lose, and if it works it would be a good choice for using in other more extensive parts of the city.”
The architects also experimented with glowstone, pavement that uses photoluminescent paint that gives off light in the dark. The bridge also uses solar-powered LED lights.
Ultimately, the bridge is designed to get more people to walk and bike. “There is an increasing demand not only about the quantity of public open space but also about its quality as space,” says Casamor. In other words, it’s not enough just to have a bike or pedestrian path in an area to get people out of cars–it needs to be a place that people actually like to use.