Thursday, March 22, 2007

Road Bridges and Ornamental Metal in Memphis

In my unscientific estimation, only litter has a more immediate negative visual effect on visitors and citizens than ugly, artless municipal architecture.

Memphis has destroyed many of the great architecturally-distinct road bridges that were built on our major thoroughfares over bayous and railroad yards, replacing them with 1960s-freeway-style utilitarian structures. These include bridges on East Parkway (over Southern), Airways (over the Kellogg's plant) and Jackson (at both Schering-Plough and National Cemetery) and McLemore (near Third Street). Usually the destruction was done as an "improvement" so we could shove more cars down them.

Did we really need to build new bridges as artlessly as the replacements have been? Most have no detail at all in the concrete work (reminiscent of the concrete barriers placed in front of government buildings during security alerts), and the railing and street lamps that could have been bought in 1972. In fact, here's a picture of the railings of the East Parkway bridge, built last year.

East Parkway (at Southern) bridge railingNow here's a picture of the railing of a bridge crossing I-240 in Midtown. It was probably built in the late 1960s or 1970s.

Linden (at I240) bridge railing40 years later we're still installing the same bland freeway-style railings. In this case, incongruously installing since Memphis did install Midtown-style street lamps, the only artful touch on any of the replacement bridges. The Sam Cooper bridge in Binghamton, finished in the last 5 years, doesn't even have the nice street lamps.

While the damage/destruction has been done to the original bridges, I don't believe the new bridges need to remain as ugly and artless as this. We can retrofit them with railings that are cast or molded for a Memphis specific design. It can be the same design everywhere -- we can use the same railings on all of our bridges and enjoy the economies of scale from this -- as long as it's a good distinctive design made specifically for Memphis.

We can't recast the concrete portion, but we can add ornamental metal to the existing concrete, breaking up a monotony that says "we're cheap and have no taste" with detail that shouts "we are the city of the great National Ornamental Metal Museum!"

And now a precedent.
downtown Memphis benchdowntown Memphis bench detailArchitecture advertises place.

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