February 23, 2011

Bridge Architect Argues for Increased Budget

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In his meeting with City of Ithaca and Cornell officials on Feb. 2, Nader Tehrani, lead architect for the seven bridge barriers to be built on and around campus, said expanding the project’s current budget might better ensure the permanent barriers’ effectiveness in preventing suicides.

Tehrani explained that, depending on the material chosen for means restriction, extending the barriers to cover the area around a bridge might exceed “certain price points.”

“We all understand that the budget we are working with now cannot deal with the edges [of the bridge sites] as a kind of comprehensive condition on all of the gorges,” Tehrani said at the meeting, a video of which the University released Wednesday. “Whether it involves us or not, this is, we believe, in the interest of Ithaca as well as the Cornell campus.”

Superintendent of Public Works Bill Gray questioned whether this assertion contradicted the University’s justification for building the suicide barriers.

“It was Cornell’s effort to say that, really, the suicide does not leave the bridge,” Gray said. If, despite the barriers, suicides could still occur at a nearby location, “Why should I bother to fix the bridges [if] I can just walk 50 feet down the gorge and do the same thing?” Gray said.

“Why am I going to spend $20 million on the bridges to stop something I can’t stop?” he said, arguing that “as soon as you introduce that element, then the whole argument [for the barriers] grinds to a halt.”

Tehrani responded that, though he may believe the barriers should extend along a bridge site, covering these entire areas is not within the project’s current jurisdiction.

“As a technicality, we’re not commissioned today to address those areas that happen in a fuzzy way between here and the next bridge,” Tehrani said.

Gray was unsatisfied.

“I’m just telling you, if you reintroduce this element into the discussion it’s going to get a lot more complex,” Gray said.

Tehrani responded by citing  research conducted by the University before the project began. He said that means substitution — which occurs if suicides  move elsewhere if they are prevented at a certain location — “will remain issues that Ithaca and Cornell will invariably have to address.”

Tehrani added that the study extended beyond suicide prevention to include “the relationship between the exact physical components that define the architectural and natural heritage [of the bridges].”

“Not everything we’re discussing here has to do with the physical barriers,” Tehrani said. “My sense is that it’s still a discussion that needs to be massaged.”

Gray still disagreed.

“We spent a lot of time at the start of all of this saying … that if you can eliminate bridges as a source, as a location, you will have solved a major portion of the problem,” Gray said. He worried that if the barriers did not significantly reduce an area’s suicide rate, the barriers might not be worth building at all.

University Architect Gilbert Delgado said Cornell had discussed “that sweet spot — where does the bridge really end?” Still, Delgado said, “We’ll take a look at it, we’ll focus on it.”

Tehrani cut in.

“I have to be quite forceful in my response,” he said. “There’s a legal dimension to your question and we need to be unambiguous about that because that is what Cornell will be facing and we will all be facing that question down the road.”

“You cannot try to address fundamental and serious problems that deal with peoples’ lives and try to think that you’re resolving them by the addressing of these bridges,” Tehrani added.

Gray responded that he understood the issue of legal liability, but that he worried about the long-term effects of the bridge barriers.

“You get to go home at some point, [but] we’ll be dealing with this problem for the next 100 years,” he said.

At the meeting, Tehrani presented various early design models for each of the seven bridges. He separated his proposals into three main types: bars, tensile steel mesh and glass.

These categories were further subdivided by their placement on the bridge. The materials could be placed as a net below the given bridge that would connect to the gorges, horizontal or vertical with the bridge, or enclosing the entire bridge.

Tehrani emphasized how each early design model had been crafted to blend in with the aesthetic quality of the particular bridge site and have minimal visual impact.

For instance, in discussion of a proposed anodized steel barrier at the trolley footbridge between Collegetown and the Engineering Quad, Tehrani said “it appears to have more of a presence” than it does in the presented slide.

The barrier “can become one with the branches,” Tehrani said. This would make the barrier “actually something quite romantic … an extension of the foliage, and the twigs and the members of trees really become one with the nature around it.”

The actual pre-schematic designs will be presented to the Cornell and Ithaca communities on March 2.

Original Author: Jeff Stein