February 7, 2011

Bridge Barrier Architect Reports Progress to City, University Officials

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After postponing the public release of initial models for permanent bridge barriers, the project’s architects met Monday with both Cornell and city of Ithaca officials to review the project’s progress.

University Architect Gilbert Delgado said the release of pre-schematic barrier designs, initially scheduled for January, has been delayed to March because of the closure of Office dA, the architectural firm initially contracted by Cornell for the barriers’ design. Although Nader Tehrani, formerly of Office dA, will remain the project’s lead architect, he will do so through his new firm, NADAAA.

Delgado said the project “only lost two to three weeks” due to the internal conflict between Tehrani and his former coworker Monica Ponce de Leon at Office dA.

Although the University delayed the public release of preliminary designs by more than a month, Delgado said the architects still plan to meet the May 31 deadline set by Ithaca’s Common Council for the project’s final schematic design.

The University will meet all the benchmarks in the shortened time-frame by “compressing the work effort,” Delgado said.

Delgado said he did not believe the delay would detract from the time designated to elicit community responses to the barriers.

Explaining that “most review periods are a couple of weeks,” Delgado said the University and city of Ithaca community would have sufficient time to respond to the designs.

Tehrani said that, because of the new time constraints, the architects will “have to work harder… not eight hour days but 12, 14 hour days.”

Although the architects will be working faster, Tehrnai said that the proposals being developed  “are no less than what was originally scoped and the engagement with the various groups remains intact.”

The University would not release the mock-ups presented at Monday’s meetings with Cornell and city officials because “there are a lot of ruminations that occur in an architectural process, [but] not all of it is valuable and not all of it is backed up by facts,” according to Tehrani.

“When you present those ideas to a broader audience or to a public, [you] need to frame them within a context that is defensible,” Tehrani said.

Although the University would not provide information on the designs to the public, Tehrani presented preliminary bridge barrier designs to the city of Ithaca-Cornell Bridge Safety Committee. Ithaca City Councilmember Svante Myrick ’09 (D-4th Ward), a member of the ICBSC, said the University’s proposals could be “broken into three species.”

Myrick said the three main types of designs that the architect discussed were bars similar to the current installations, tensile steel mesh — “sort of like a chain-link fence” — and planes of glass.

Tehrani called this point of the project “the moment to think, to imagine” possible designs not necessarily intended for public consumption.

“This is not merely a means restrictions project,” Tehrani said.  “This is a moment where you can imagine these bridges as a destination and as vital part of the civic imagination of the city and campus.”

Myrick said that while he continues to be impressed with the architect’s work, Monday’s presentation “disabused … the notion I had that these fences were going to be more works of art than barriers.”

“They are what they are,” Myrick said of the barriers. “Some of the solutions are extremely creative, but they’re barriers first.”

Councilmember Eddie Rooker ’10 (D-4th Ward) said he thought all the presented options “allowed for still having a good view of the gorges.”

“We’re not fooling anybody by trying to make them look invisible,” Rooker said, adding that he therefore liked “some of the more elaborate” design proposals.

Tehrani said the architects are “developing a matrix of 21 options” for bridge designs, with three options per bridge.

“The idea is to develop criteria, themes and agendas for each bridge that speak to the important cultural role they perform, the unique qualities they have with respect to systems [and] their role as elements within the landscape,” Tehrani said.

Last summer, Ithaca’s Common Council voted to allow temporary, black fences to remain in place until May 31. The seven fences on and around campus were originally installed last March in response to a string of student suicides off bridges.

Original Author: Jeff Stein