July 28, 2008

A Conspiracy Theorist in Design

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I’ve always been a bit of a conspiracy theorist. Okay, so perhaps not in the “Who shot JFK?/Where were the air craft carriers for Pearl Harbor?” sort of way… more like in the “CNN is the mouth piece of corporate America” sort of way… So when I stumbled upon an interesting little anomaly in Cornell’s Comprehensive Master Plan, involving a bit of photo-shopping, my first thought was “hold the presses”. My second thought was “well, no one’s updated CMYK in a while…”
I’ve got a little bleeding heart architect in me, as some of you may have gleaned from prior posts, and I also basically worship Frederick Law Olmstead, who just happened to play a major role in Cornell’s campus development. Thus, when the University posted endless PDFs detailing the physical guidelines of their new campus master plan, I was on that website like a Canadian intern on Bill Clinton (or was it all made up by Newt Gingrich????)
While perusing a lovely mockup of the future campus, I noticed something weird among the gorges… actually, two somethings. First, in Fall Creek, the suspension bridge was missing. Second, between the parking lot behind the law school and Eddy Gate, a new bridge was superimposed over Cascadilla Creek.
First, I was like “Sa-weeeeet!” I lived in Cascadilla Hall last year, in College town, and as my friends and I would trudge up from parties around West Campus, we would always lament the lack of a crossing between College Ave and Stewart. Then I thought “wait a minute… suspension bridge missing… new bridge appears… could they possibly be thinking about… no!”
The images are provided here as proof (students and alumni beware: the following images may be too graphic for those fans of our beloved suspension bridge!).

Fall Creek: Sans Suspension Bridge
[img_assist|nid=30892|title=Fall Creek, Sans Suspension Bridge|desc=Fall creek gorge, as pictured in the Comprehensive Master Plan, the Suspension bridge was (accidentally?) painted over.|link=node|align=center|width=|height=0]

Cascadilla Creek: Sporting a new Span
[img_assist|nid=30893|title=Cascadilla Creek, Sporting a new Span!|desc=Cascadilla Creek, between Stewart Avenue (left) and College Avenue (right) sporting a new span between Eddy Gate and the law school.|link=node|align=center|width=|height=0]

First, it’s easy to see that something was hastily changed in image. The blue water of the gorges is far too saturated to match the rest of the campus mock-up. It lacks any depth or shadow, and was either added later or never developed to begin with. (My guess is the graphic designer began with an actual image of campus, and began digitally altering it to give it a more lush, cartoon-ish feel).
So perhaps, in this rush, the suspension bridge was mistakenly not added. Or perhaps it was accidentally brushed over, when the bright blue water was added. What remains certain is that the bridge by Eddy Gate was certainly not a mistake. It has an approach drawn in on both sides, with the approach on the law school side deftly shaded to appear covered by trees. A shadow is even added, which is cutoff by the blue water, evidence that the water was added after the bridge was processed.
If the suspension bridge on North Campus was meant to be removed (which to be honest, I sincerely doubt), the artist could have easily removed the approaches over greenery, which appear to remain intact. Only the span over the water has been removed.
Nevertheless, it begs the question: is Cornell considering a relocation of the suspension bridge. The bridge, which replaced a previous, less stable (but more fun!) span, was designed by Cornell professors, and was made by Bethlehem steel, the company that brought us the Golden Gate Bridge and George Washington Bridge (in New York). As usual, Uncle Ezra has the details. The relocation seems feasible (ski resorts relocate and retrofit chairlifts all the time, to save costs).

An interesting ( and rather important? ) addendum: on the next page of the plan, both bridges appear:

[img_assist|nid=30896|title=Both bridges appear on the next page|desc=Okay, so maybe this town IS big enough for the two of them… but theory remains…|link=node|align=center|width=|height=0]

Convincing evidence against moving the current bridge. But far from rigorous contradiction! The theory remains….So what are your thoughts? Am I reading into a simple photo-shop error too much, or is Cornell secretly planning a relocation of the bridge? This wouldn’t be the world’s first photoshop conspiracy. Furthermore, what do you think would be more beneficial, a West Campus – Collegetown link, or the current West/Central – North Campus link?