For Seattle-based LMN Architects, the commission to design the Grand Avenue Park Bridge in Everett, Wash., was a chance to extend the firm’s long-standing commitment to architecture in the public interest—particularly its pursuit of infrastructure projects, which have become something of
an in-house specialty. “We shouldn’t just look at the parts of the world around us that aren’t capital-A Architecture and see them as void of opportunity, void of inspiration,” says LMN partner Stephen Van Dyck, AIA. “There are lots of ways to inspire people with typologies that aren’t considered conventionally sexy by the profession.”
The firm’s long run of successful transportation-related projects (including a brand-new multimodal ferry terminal in Mukilteo, just north of Seattle) made LMN a natural choice for the 257-foot bridge. Everett, a coastal community, has long been disconnected from its coastline along Possession Sound. “It’s always been a manufacturing-based town,” says Van Dyck. Industrial and shipping facilities have dominated the waterfront, while a major north-south freeway and adjacent train tracks effectively severed the coastline from the bluff-top residential neighborhoods on the town’s west side. In recent years, however, new commercial and recreational development have crept down the hill; the area, says Van Dyck, has “blossomed,” necessitating new and improved ways to reach it.
Using durable, unpretentious materials—raw concrete, rough steel—LMN succeeded in making the bridge a celebration of movement and urban life. It connects a small park (designed by the city’s official architect) with the historic docks below, rising over the intervening road and railway in a single bound. It’s a leap made possible by a steel truss that’s anchored in the cliff face on one side, and in a tall, concrete tower on the other side. The tower is a striking presence, an emphatic coda to the architectural procession.
Contextually, the truss was a perfect fit: The open structure of braces and struts is an obvious nod to the classic railroad bridges of America. Sturdy and economical, the simple frame also gave the designers some flexibility in the arrangement of the walkway, which scissors downward from the park in two stages to guide pedestrians gently westward from the ridge top, before carrying them over the main span towards a staircase and elevator in the concrete volume on the coastal side. Hidden beneath the deck, drainage pipes and other technical systems are out of sight to all but passing motorists and conductors.
But the design’s real allure lies in what its users can see as they stroll the length of span. Doing triple duty as a safety rail, a brise soleil, and a decorative add-on, a series of aluminum panels decorate the sides of the walkways and turn the bridge into an eye-catching piece of infrastructure. As LMN’s Scott Crawford, Assoc. AIA, recalls: “We started looking at aluminum plate—a material that could be left bare but that you could also put some kind of pattern on.” Local contractors used a digitally guided CNC waterjet to slice rhomboid forms into the aluminum, with no two panels alike. By day, the pattern casts hypnotic shadows on the deck; by night, the effect is even more dramatic, with concealed LED lighting setting the whole bridge aglow with a spectacular, strangely tactile shimmer.
Thanks to the firm’s familiarity with parametric design, as well as a collaborative spirit that brought together the project’s engineers and fabricators, Crawford says, LMN was able “to push our concept forward without delaying the overall trajectory.” Since its opening in August last year, the bridge has been a hit with locals and visitors alike, who have found it to be a destination in itself.
Project: Grand Avenue Park Bridge, Everett, Wash.
Client: City of Everett
Design Architect: LMN Architects, Seattle. Scott Crawford, Assoc. AIA, Kyle Kiser, AIA, Mark La Venture, AIA, Kathy Stallings, Stephen Van Dyck, AIA, John Woloszyn, AIA
Structural/Civil Engineer: KPFF Consulting Engineers
Mechanical Engineer: Tres West Engineers
Electrical Engineer: Stantec Consulting Services
Contractor: Interwest Construction
FROM THE ARCHITECTS:
Elevating utilitarian infrastructure to a thoughtfully designed community asset, the Grand Avenue Park Pedestrian Bridge highlights the value of rethinking public realm design. The bridge will transform the Everett waterfront, establishing a new connection between the uplands Grand Avenue Park and the developing waterfront district. The project will fulfill a decades-long goal for a convenient, non-motorized passage to the waterfront, which has grown to feature a 66-acre mixed-use development, the Everett Farmer’s Market, and the largest public marina on the west coast. The challenge for this project was how to resolve essential engineering infrastructure and transportation functions as seamlessly as possible. By deconstructing the elements of the project—functional, aesthetic, and environmental—and reimagining the parts, the design team developed a solution that preserved the view while greatly minimizing the intervention into the steep, 75-foot-high hillside. The new design integrates accessible pathways into a sloped truss, eliminating the need for the uphill elevator and saving significant costs, all while elevating the pedestrian experience through a whimsical play of space, light, and structure. Integrating vertical circulation above, around, and within the truss, two ramps create a playful pathway, acting as switchbacks to reduce the grade change and frame a series of dramatic views to Whidbey Island, the waterfront, and the Olympic Mountains. The ramps bring pedestrians through a varied sequence of spaces that interact with the structure, beginning above, then cantilevered outboard over the highway, and finally bringing them within the truss itself. Along the pathway, a sequence of viewing platforms offers multiple experiences of the surrounding landscape. Recalling the hard-working vernacular of a railroad overpass, the weathered steel trusses of the bridge’s frame have been strategically positioned to echo the ramp volumes and sectioned over the active railway to allow for ease of installation during construction. Stormwater overflow piping—the initial impetus for the project—all but disappears beneath the pathway, reinforcing the bridge’s ability to elegantly solve simultaneous challenges. Hillside stormwater and sewer lines will also be replaced as part of the project, and the potential for a future water main crossing is incorporated into the bridge design. While the project is driven by performance and practicality, the design affords opportunities for artful intervention. Custom-designed aluminum panels serve triple duty as safety rails, lighting reflectors, and as a bespoke visual element. The panels feature a waterjet-cut geometric pattern that is as minimal as possible at eye level to facilitate views, while becoming more dense in proximity to pathway lighting where it serves as a reflector. The geometric pattern is repeated on the base of the tower where it is sandblasted into the concrete to further animate the structure. By embracing a creative pragmatist approach, the solution addresses both functional and aesthetic demands, weaving urban infrastructure into the life of the city and becoming a catalyst for continued community revitalization.