Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Official Preemptive Illadelph Crush: Penn’s Weave Bridge by Cecil Balmond

Penn's Weave Bridge by Cecil BalmondDesigned by Cecil Balmond, the British engineer-cum-architect (and, ahem, part-time Professor at Penn), whose bold designs seemingly enable steel to defy gravity, the Weave Bridge (rendering above) signals the beginning of Penn’s ambitious plan to create a vibrant, mixed use neighborhood on the eastern edge of its campus that will connect the campus with Center City. Appropriately, that plan is called Penn Connects.

And an auspicious beginning at that. The bridge, slated to open in 2008, is truly one-of-a-kind. The bridge’s span actually doubles as the bridge’s support.
Penn initially planned to construct a purely functional, temporary walkway over the Amtrak rails. But as it was putting the finishing touches on its new 30-year master plan with consultant Sasaki Associates, the university began to see the overpass as a kick-off project that could demonstrate its commitment to bold architecture. It sought out Balmond, who, despite being an engineer, teaches an architecture studio in the School of Design.
With the completion last year of Balmond’s own charmingly asymmetrical bridge in Coimbra, Portugal, he finally got to affix his signature to a project. The Weave Bridge will be an important next step for Balmond’s Advanced Geometry Unit at Arup, a sort of think tank, or R&D unit, that he founded inside the engineering giant. Working together with Daniel Bosia and a select group of designers, he specializes in finding elegant solutions to engineering problems. Balmond may be dipping more into architecture, but engineering structure remains his point of departure.

Unlike Frank Gehry, who is happy to drape his bloblike forms onto any old framework that can hold them up, Balmond sees structure and design as one and the same. There are no vertical supports holding up the Weave Bridge because its twisting stainless-steel strips carry the load, in the way that cables and trusses do on conventional bridges.
The bridge will be located in a currently off-the-beaten-path area of campus behind Franklin Field (see image below). But no matter — it will definitely be worth the trek.

Map of Penn Connects and the Weave BridgeLet us just say this: bold architecture is good. Bold architecture in Philadelphia is also good. Philadelphia’s propensity for red brick notwithstanding, there is plenty of room for awesome modern architecture to coexist with Philadelphia’s esteemed and diverse architectural past.

Accordingly, we are definitely looking forward to the two major projects coming to the Parkway — remember the Free Library expansion (one non-winning proposal for which is depicted below) and the relocation of the Barnes?

Ten Arquitectos proposal for the Philadelphia Free LibrarySo it is without apologies and with open arms that we prematurely welcome the Weave Bridge to Philadelphia. (Especially, when compared to what’s happening on the other side of the river.)

Well done, Penn. And well done, Mr. Balmond.

We just wish Penn would build the promised pedestrian bridge over the Schuylkill River by 2020 — not 2040 (as recently reported by Ms. Saffron).

Rendering of Penn Connects including pedestrian bridge over Schuylkill RiverWe mean, really. What. The. Fuck.

Not building that for another 30 years is simply total bollocks.

The Weave Bridge at Penn Connects [ Official Site ]
A Bridge That’s Way Beyond Pedestrian [ PDF on Penn Connects via Philadelphia Inquirer ]
The Weave Bridge: An Impossible Structure [ Esquire ]
Why Does a Philadelphian Cross the CSX Tracks [ Changing Skyline ]

Penn's Weave Bridge

1 comment:

DeWitt said...

Anyway someone at Penn could possibly get someone at the Streets Dept to sit down at the same table with this guy and figure out how to get this project and the Schuylkill River f/CSX Crossing that's supposed to be built a couple blocks north?