Defying Urban Nature

By Khaled Abou Alfa • 13th of March, 2022

Construction is nearing completion (just over 6 years after work began) on the Michael Maltzan River of Light’. This new bridge replaces the Art-Deco Sixth Street viaduct and ambitiously looks to become more than a bridge.

The architectural renderings being a prime example of everything that is wrong with architectural renderings in general. They inspire a completely unrealistic picture of the actual use of any project. It’s a common presentation language, but the renderings try desperately to entertain the notion that sections of this bridge will become places of congregation, to enjoy the arches. This video waxes lyrically about the architecture and the architect waxes lyrically about connecting spaces and communities. This bridge is not on the same cultural importance as the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty. There are so many differences between these hero projects to list. As inviting as the bridge is, there won’t be large urban pilgrimages made to this bridge - at one point the Eiffel Tower was the most visited structure in the world.

While the ribbon effect that threads this part of the city together, is visually very striking, the real star is the engineering logistics and construction that made it all possible. Where the Millau Viaduct in France defies nature, the new Sixth Street Viaduct defies the urban landscape. This bridge has a total of 10 arches the cross over a number of existing (and varied) infrastructure:

  1. Santa Fe Avenue
  2. 19 train tracks
  3. The Los Angeles River
  4. Mission Road
  5. Andersen Street
  6. Clarence Street
  7. And finally Route 101 Freeway

Section of Sixth Street Viaduct

While the intent of adding green spaces under the viaduct is admirable, the reality of how this space will function practically remains to be seen. How much more powerful this project would have been if it had tried to replicate the Highline in New York, but that just wouldn’t very LA.

Aside: My favourite bridge is a small pedestrian bridge located 10-15min from where I grew up. The 94m Calatrava Footbridge on Mesogeion Avenue in Athens, Greece, which seemingly floats out of the side of a series of residential buildings and swoops straight up. The simple elegance has always appealed.

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