Using the past to shape the future
Providence River Pedestrian Bridge
Providence, Rhode Island, USA
Rhode Island Department of Transportation
Completed in 2019
Services provided by Buro Happold
In the heart of the city’s Innovation District, Buro Happold has completed work on the Providence River Pedestrian Bridge. Ten years in the making, the design for this bridge has evolved from being a simple crossing to get people from A to B, into an iconic structure that is a destination for the city’s inhabitants.
This project posed a number of challenges for our team. Initially, our engineers had to realize the new footbridge on top of the existing foundations, piers and abutments of the old I195 interstate that once ran through the site.
In addition, the FEMA recommendations changed just as we completed our first design for the bridge. This caused the State Coastal Management Agency to question whether the bridge would be compromised should sea level rise by 3ft – something that had not previously been a concern. When we discovered that it would, our structural engineers had to rethink their initial design… fast.
As these issues were unfolding, interest in the bridge was continuing to build. As more and more stakeholders and community groups became invested in the project, ambitions likewise began to grow. Meanwhile, the practicalities and budget we were working with remained the same, so we came under increasing pressure to deliver something spectacular within very tight constraints.
More than a single connector, it is a flexible, seamless extension of the new riverfront parks. Two 12ft wide levels, an upper and lower, ensure safe circulation for bikers, runners, walkers, and strollers. Terraced gardens provide seating and connect the two pathway zones. The design includes a boardwalk and landscaped green space linking two new riverside parks together, as part of a large city scheme of harborside and downtown redevelopment. The alignment of this urban intervention simultaneously considers fluid movement through the city, orientation and views during the procession, and frames of view toward the bridge as an artistic object itself. The lower platform of the bridge provides a gathering space for residents and tourists alike.
We undertook impact assessments to understand how the bridge would be affected by rising sea levels. We found that the design would be able to withstand the rise in terms of water flow, but not in the case of an ice load. By building up the existing piers with concrete, we were able to raise the bridge by the 1.5ft required to ensure its safety without altering our structural design too drastically.
When it came to delivering inspired design on a budget, we drew on our experience to incorporate elements and materials never before used in a Department of Transport project. Although the curved geometry, steel frame and wood decking of the new bridge are features that our engineers deal with on a daily basis, we understood that they were unusual for our client. Because of this, we spent a significant amount of time liaising with them and the general contractor to develop a shared vision.
The care and investment we put in with our client was worth it, as it has enabled us to realize a design that is beautiful and unique – and the public reaction has been outstanding. The programming of the urban intervention magnifies the connectivity of residential districts, commerce, tourism, and culture. Further, it opens potential for environmental interpretive nodes educating both residents and visitors about the history and ecology of the Providence, Seekonk, and Taunton Rivers, as well as the Narragansett Bay. The design approach considers the potential of the city momentum created through events that identify past, present, and future culture of the city.