When the city of Fort Worth, Texas, set out to make streetscape improvements in a residential neighborhood bisected by a creek, nearby residents had a few requests. In addition to the walkways they city had planned, they wanted new benches and garbage cans along the new paths to reduce litter problems. Both were simple enough, and the city agreed. Then the residents asked for a slightly bigger amenity: a pedestrian bridge over the 80-foot-wide creek. With costs ranging into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, a new pedestrian bridge, the city said, was not within its budget.
But Anne Allen, who administers the public art program for the City of Fort Worth, had another idea. “I said we have public art funds. Maybe we could do an artist-designed pedestrian bridge?” she says.
And so public art and civic infrastructure became one. The city sent out a request for qualifications, and soon selected Portland-based artist Volkan Alkanoglu to design the project. Alkanoglu, who has a background in architecture, has designed futuristic sculptures, pavilions, and art pieces for civic buildings, universities and airports around the U.S. “The community asked for a bridge and we found the funds to be able to deliver a beautiful sculpture that is also a bridge,” Allen says.
The timber and steel bridge was designed using computational tools and fabricated off site as a single piece. Inspired by the way boats are designed, the bridge has a smooth, undulating form, and actually includes forms within it that serve as the benches the community requested.
In just a few hours last month, the 62-foot bridge-long was craned off the back of a truck and slotted into concrete footings on each end of the creek. “It was so fast,” says Alkanoglu. “It was almost like a ballet dancer just jumping off the truck and landing in its position.”
The bridge is Alkanoglu’s first piece of urban infrastructure. He refers to this simple installation process as “plug and play urbanism,” and says that off-site fabrication of these kinds of infrastructural elements could help cities build more affordably, and to adapt their infrastructure as needs or conditions change. “We can pick it up and move it somewhere else if needed,” he says. “There are benefits to things that are permanent, but this doesn’t have to be permanent.”
For now, the bridge will stay put. With a budget of $375,000, Allen says the bridge was neither a big budget public art project nor a high cost piece of urban infrastructure. Compared to a pre-designed bridge purchased off the shelf from a manufacturer, Alkanoglu’s bridge was only slightly more expensive to design and install.
Alkanoglu says project costs were kept low by optimizing the manufacturing process. He and his team scanned the bridge’s wooden planks before assembly and used computational design tools to create the most efficient assembly plan, piecing the planks together in a precise puzzle that reduced unnecessary cuts and waste. “You save time, you save material, and that equals money,” Alkanoglu says. “At the same time you’re more sustainable in the way you work, but you’re also more sustainable in what you produce.”
Off-site manufacturing is being used more often to build this kind of small scale civic architecture. In Amsterdam, a 3D-printed steel pedestrian bridge was recently installed over one of the city’s famed canals.
In Fort Worth, Allen says this project may become a model. “It’s getting a lot of attention. Anytime I’ve been over there, it’s fantastic to see people that are driving by, they slow down, pull over and in a lot of cases get out and walk across it,” she says. “I would imagine there will be more requests for this kind of thing.”