Concrete Creativity: Enhancing Chicago and Park Bridge Design

An initiative that started as a flash of an idea from Target’s Nate Garvis is beginning with bridge replacement projects at Chicago Avenue and Park Avenue. Inspired by the effective collaboration and striking conceptual designs coming out of the Midtown Crossings design workshop, the City of Minneapolis is developing an innovative design and construction process that will set a high standard for bridge design in the corridor.

Innovation is also at work in funding the design process. MCW private partners have pledged to increase the original $50,000 preliminary design budget by adding private contributions of another $25,000. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak is thrilled with this move. “This kind of creative energy from the private sector is terrific,” he said. “And all the more significant because it is backed financially by the MCW Partnership. We are clearly demonstrating how to create great new places in the City — in an era of having to do more with less City dollars.”

Garvis is also enthusiastic. “The workshop produced dynamic designs and showed how the multidisciplinary model can work,” he said. “The bridges can help brand Minneapolis as a design city and build its reputation for creativity.” Marking the Greenway with great design is now the goal of the City and County as they begin their thirty-year bridge replacement process.

Commitment to Collaboration

“This is just one more example of the smart, creative kind of partnership we have been creating for several years now through MCW,” noted Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin. “This is the way we get great things done.” The City and County are taking the ideas and vision of the Midtown Crossings workshop, and have begun the process of creating new bridges at Chicago and Park Avenues by the end of 2003. Soon the first new Greenway bridges will begin taking form through the coordinated efforts of architects, engineers, and artists assembled in Minneapolis.

Minneapolis Public Works plans to select a design team similar to those used for the Midtown Crossings workshop, and a key factor for a successful project will be convincing professionals of the same high caliber to participate in the process. Engineering, art, and community input will all go into the design from the beginning, which will also mark Minneapolis as a center of innovative local government.

Without the success of the Midtown Crossings design workshop, the City of Minneapolis would not be experimenting with a new public infrastructure process. Robert Lilligren, the new Ward 8 City Council member, supports the project. “This Council is interested in finding new ways of working, and better ways of serving the community. What I’ve seen so far from this bridge initiative is fantastic—I’m all for this new way of building public infrastructure.” The City’s leadership in developing a unique design and construction process is a key reason the bridge initiative is moving from concept to concrete.

Hennepin County owns the Park Avenue bridge, and is a full partner in the process. The City and County plan for collaboration is unique. Through an innovative solicitation request, the City will hire a multidisciplinary design team to develop conceptual designs for both bridges. After the City and County approve these designs, Hennepin County engineering staff will develop the engineering plans and specifications needed to construct the design ideas.

By collaborating on the bridge projects, the City and County are ensuring that new Greenway bridges are designed consistently, though not identically, to each other. This arrangement provides cost efficiencies as well, because Public Works has already developed the solicitation setting forth a multidisciplinary design process and requiring proposers to develop design teams.

Midtown Crossings Concepts

The design team selected by the City will take inspiration from the concepts developed at the Midtown Crossings workshop for the Chicago Avenue site. Among the considerations recognized at the workshop is the significance of the Sears Building in this area, and the potential that any project at that site could overwhelm a Chicago bridge. Accordingly, any design must include its relationship with the Sears site as an important element. According to Garvis, “Context must drive the design of these bridges. The industrial aesthetic and community vision must shine through the designers’ work.”

One design coming out the Midtown Crossings workshop is modeled on the existing corridor bridges. The design would provide support in the middle of the bridge, but rather than replicating the two sets of columns that currently support the bridges, the supports would angle from the middle of the bridge out to the bridge embankment and carry stairs for better access between the street and Greenway. Such a bridge incorporates not just public art and bridge infrastructure, but also movement into the Corridor. These design ideas are still just conceptual, but as the multidisciplinary teams begin giving form to the new bridges, the concepts will provide some inspiration.

The Design Institute at the University of Minnesota has also helped develop the solicitation. Communicating the concepts of the design workshop and the high-level design expected from the design teams is critically important. The Design Institute has ensured that the language of public infrastructure and the language of world-class design are compatible, and has helped the City target the solicitation request to top designers. Translating the model process and work product from the Midtown Crossings workshop into bridge specifications is the next challenge for the Partnership.

Design Solicitation

The City mailed its solicitation request to participants on March 11. The Partnership’s Art and Design committee weighed in with suggestions and ideas after the City developed the initial document. Proposals are due March 29, and an evaluation team will select the artists by May 1. The selected team will work from May 16, 2002 and deliver completed conceptual designs by July 1.

City and County staff have committed to work together closely on this project, and are finalizing the details of their collaboration plan. The solicitation request reflects this cooperation by requiring the selected design team to coordinate between City and County departments, and the State Historic Preservation Office, to get preliminary responses to their work. In addition, the team must develop community support and approval for the designs before delivering them to City staff by hosting three community meetings during which it will present the concepts. The designs will go through City and County approval processes, and upon approval, County engineers will develop engineering plans and specifications, submit them for public bidding and select a contractor. Due to federal funding limitations, the end of 2003 is the deadline for Chicago Avenue bridge construction, and the Park Avenue bridge