Chemistry conspires against us. We get older and our skin changes, sagging away from places it used to diligently cling to. Our hair changes, turning grey, completely disappearing, or just migrating from the top of heads down our backs. And our bones change, becoming less dense and more fragile. It turns out that chemistry also conspires against bridges; specifically, the Sixth Street Viaduct in Downtown Los Angeles. More than just chipping paint and rusting steel, the concrete used to build the bridge way back in 1932 had an unusually high alkali content. So for the past 80 years, an alkali-silica reaction has been deteriorating the bridge from the inside out. This makes the bridge especially susceptible to failure durring earthquakes so the city has decided to host a competition to replace the bridge. The three renderings above are from the finalists.
According to this World Architecture post, public reception of the three finalists was tepid: “the designs failed to capture the community’s imagination with its leaders describing all three schemes as turning their backs on the neighborhood.” Without being overly critical of the schematic designs, I feel like these bridges are spanning the murky territory from flamboyant to banal. Each design seems to start with an idea about the overall form rather than starting with an idea about how to best implement a structural system at this site. And as a result, each bridge looks like it has extraneous elements. Any bridge is better than a pile of rubble in the river, when the neighborhood residents aren’t excited about any of the designs, the pile of rubble seems inevitable.