Ideas from Boston’s Northern Avenue Bridge

The recent ideas competition for a new bridge in Boston resulted in some wonderful proposals.

After writing the prior post about a bridge for Providence, I got an email about the Ideas Competition, held by the City of Boston and the Boston Society of Architects.

The competition was launched in March 2016 to get ideas for a new Northern Avenue Bridge across the channel  which runs from South Station to the harbor. The old bridge ran from downtown Boston to the Seaport, where now are located the wholesalers’ Fish Pier, the “World Trade Center,” the Design Center, the US Courthouse where the Marathon bomber’s trial took place, plus hotels, great restaurants, condos, etc. Also, GE will build a new HQ office out there, in two years.

The old bridge was closed to all traffic over a year ago (its steel structure is extensively corroded).

The competition drew over 100 entries, and the jury named 8 winning teams.  The plans and sketches by the winners (in PDF format) can be found at:  (Warning: this website takes forever to load –the PDF boards are big in gigabyte size.)

A faster website with small photos and less baloney is the next one:

I like the following design winners:

  1. Northern Avenue Botanical Bridge
  2. Steampunk Gateway: Reimagining Boston’s Maritime History

These designs are delightful, each in a different way. The Botanical Bridge is enclosed in glass, like a conservatory.  It provides a greenspace all year long, for office workers and tourists alike to enjoy and rejuvenate.

Northern Avenue Botanical Bridge -- AW Architects

People will need a green respite, as they walk from downtown with its concrete or brick boxes to the Seaport with its glass mausoleums (OK, some are nice and humane).

The Steampunk Gateway is a mix of uses: maritime museum, marina for historic boats and for people to rent row boats, or for Chinatown to moor its dragon boats.  Also restaurants and steam machine exhibits. Plus much more, mostly at water level. Looks fun.

Steampunk Gateway

The above pictures are copied from  but then were reduced in size by me to fit into this post.

In the essay category, the jury selected two.  These I quote below in their entirety, because they are so well written and they express two visions that most of us would like to see in our towns as well.  The links for the originals can be found by clicking on the blue titles. I added the bold font to highlight concepts that pertain to Providence as well.

 The Northern Ave Bridge is Boston

by Kaitlin Moran

Northern Avenue Bridge is a symbol of Boston’s growth and development in the 20th and 21st centuries. The revolutionary foundations that built our city flow through the fabric of everything we do and the Boston Harbor is a constant reminder of the actions Bostonians took to declare their freedom and independence. The Northern Avenue Bridge sits above that history. It is a testament to the city Boston became 125 years after the American Revolution. Boston became a city of hard-working, blue-collar immigrants. These people, like many immigrants to our city today, were the laborers who built a modern city. 

They were the bricklayers and the machinists. They were the bridge operators and the metal-smiths. As the 20th century progressed, Boston became a test case for urbanization, trying to bridge the traditional downtown atmosphere with the demands of modernity.  This is the Northern Avenue Bridge. Like some parts of Boston, the bridge needs some TLC in order to bridge that gap and unite all Bostonians from different neighborhoods. By examining our history, only then can we understand our future. Let the Northern Avenue Bridge be our metaphor.

The Northern Avenue Bridge is made of steel, sitting on granite and concrete. This is a strong base of support. Like our city, the Northern Avenue Bridge is well founded. The steel structure, made by the hands of laboring men, reminds us that immigrants, who were not always welcomed, built our city’s modern foundation. We must honor their contribution as well as the contribution of those revolutionary thinkers who set our city up with a solid foundation. The Northern Avenue Bridge should continue to exhibit that strong base and the steel frame to remind us where we have come from.

As Boston grows in the 21st century, the glass towers rise over the 17th century meeting houses. As the Northern Avenue Bridge rises from its base, we should honor where our city is headed. The industries that drive the 21st century, finance, technology, engineering, are often housed in glass buildings. The Northern Avenue Bridge should honor that change, by encapsulating the upper parts of the bridge in glass. Whether that is a covered walking area for pedestrians that allows them to look up at the night sky or an artists’ interpretation of a shattered glass ceiling, we need something to remind all Bostonians of where we have been and where we are all capable of going.

The Northern Avenue Bridge opens to let goods enter and exit the city. Is this not like the city itself? Boston is well-known for being home to the Irish and Italian immigrants, but let us not forget that Boston also welcomed in Free African-Americans, Syrians, Chinese, Eastern European Jews, Salvadorans, Haitians, Dominicans, Colombians, and so many more. The opening of the bridge should symbolize the opening of opportunity.

It would be fitting if as the bridge was opened it revealed new messages, only seen when the bridge was open. A quote from an inspirational immigrant to Boston like Mary Antin, “Did I not say it was my palace? Mine, because I was a citizen; mine, though I was born an alien” or perhaps we take ourselves less seriously and acknowledge the artistry of Allston’s Aerosmith, “Dream on. Dream on. Dream until your dreams come true.”

Finally, the Northern Avenue Bridge is dynamic. We can discuss its concrete and granite base or its steel frame, or its ability to swing opened and closed, and we must acknowledge that the bridge is made for many types of travelers. The Northern Avenue Bridge should keep its current skeleton, albeit reinforced, but should adapt to allow constant unfettered, pedestrian access.

Pedestrian access should include wide lanes for walking and separate lanes for biking. The former plant installations should be maintained and designed to reflect native flora and fauna of Boston.

The bridge should be lined with art by local artisans and include quotations from famous Bostonians, including representative numbers of women, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Hispanic-Americans (perhaps in chronological order lining into and out of the downtown).

Boston needs the bridge to come alive. The Northern Avenue Bridge represents Boston’s past and with proper acknowledgement of where we have been, only then can we understand where we are going.”


A City in Motion, Pauses

by MERGE architects:
Colleen Dunning, Director of Marketing + Operations
Kyle Barker, Project Manager & Designer

 “Mine is a city of motion.  A city that breaths and pulses, rolls and rides and steps with purpose. Most of the time it is head down, into the wind, a metropolis of straightforward and serious purpose. And yet a green and blue ribbon of breath is starting to trace its way through this city. Traffic still hems in the edges and interrupts the pace, there is still a self-conscious glance before indulgence in public leisure, but we are learning. I’ve seen it at cafe tables outside office buildings, at yarn-bombed bus stops and on shared bicycles. We are learning to wait, to nod, to pause.

 This Bridge is a gateway. A gateway to the Channel, to a new concept for Boston. A vantage point towards a section of the city where the harbor is not just something we admire from a lovely walkway, but a living organ we can touch and tend to. The Channel that [once] carried goods from warehouse to merchants, that sloughed off soil to sink a tunnel, is our new classroom, playground, garden and gymnasium.

The Bridge is seated between high-rises at both ends, but well prepared for welcoming a new life – we’ve staked out broadening plazas at both ends that pulse with salsa lessons on Friday nights, warming huts serving hot chocolate and cider sheltered from the bitter wind. There are no cars here, you are free to take your time, this bridge is made for exploring – though one verdant vault concedes a fast-lane for those purposeful sorts on bikes or rushing to the office.

There’s the launching pad for kayak rentals and the kiosk for the Dragon Boat Club. Towers of plants stretch down into the harbor, anchored with oyster cages at their bases; students encounter the biome of the water column. Tides are marked on pylons, predictions for storms and surges, PhD experiments hung from crossbeams invite questions and solicit input with #hashtags.

This Bridge has a history as well, calluses of labor etched into its swing span and rivets. Its proud vaults are mostly new, but the patina shows clearly which bones are the oldest. The original shape is visible in the new, sinuous form, though it no longer swings. Instead – all three of the historic bridges are here in model – and curious teams turn cranks to engage the gears that open, swing, and pull them open and shut again.

A floating barge swings out for sunbathing and picnics, topped with sand and folding chairs for the too-brief summer months.  You can, if you’d like, dip your feet in the water again. The harbor ebbs and flows into our daily lives as more than just a view, a panorama. This bridge, accessible and explorable from depths to heights, reconnects us with the harbor and the sea. As our harbor rises, we will make room, we will adjust, but first we need to reintroduce ourselves.

And in a few years this bridge will change. There will be new events and new priorities, new games and new concerns. This is a work in progress; we are a work in progress.”

Wow, what a way to write.  Most admirable. Thank you.

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