Shady Liberty 2012
East Liberty Development Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
A newly designed pedestrian bridge connects the Pittsburgh neighborhoods Shadyside and the new East Side development. The renewed commercial activity of the East Side development made a pedestrian bridge seem desirable, and the idea of an artistically designed structure came in 2005, when East Liberty Development solicited and received funding from the Heinz Endowments for such an undertaking.Renee Piechocki, director of Pittsburgh's Office for Public Art, organized community meetings to show examples from other cities, and a selection process began to find a qualified and engaging artist. "We wanted someone with a lot of experience working with engineers and in the built environment," explains Piechocki. The bridge is dressed using the required safety elements to make a shapely walkway. One of the design's best elements is one of its most subtle. The concrete walking path will be painted with arrhythmic, overlapping stripes in white and yellow, an idea that comes from the unintentionally beautiful pattern in the Liberty Avenue parking lot where street-line painters test their equipment. Essential to the project is the landscaping, lighting and sculptural cyclone fence. The curving chain link fence has handmade glass sequins edging the top of the fence that will glitter and define the space with reflections. The journey down Shady Liberty will create an experience of civilized surprise; dramatic and formal, yet playful and functional for all who walk across the bridge.
The new pedestrian bridge across Ellsworth Avenue, connecting Shadyside to the new East Side development, will be a relatively modest connection, but it offers considerable promise for the neighborhoods and the prospects of artistic bridges more generally."I'm kind of a mixmaster," Klein announces, "taking those parts and making more out of them." She makes the fencing into a sculptural element that expands and recedes along the path of the bridge. The undulating gaps make room for mounds of soil where native grasses will grow. The curving fence poles will become fixtures for hanging glass orbs, and large glass sequins will decorate the fencing itself.
Construction is scheduled for completion in Spring 2012. Certainly, praise goes to all involved for bringing art to an urban vignette where it might otherwise have been absent. The results promise to be as experiential as Klein foresees. The next step, though, is to have bridges that incorporate artists and other designers into their very inception. If the absence of cars in this bridge becomes the source of artistic inspiration, then surely a reconsideration of rigid PennDOT requirements could be an even more powerful stimulus. While Pittsburgh is no longer ahead of the game in its bridge designs, those who lobby for a greater degree of art are showing how we could work toward such status again.