Debate begins: Elegant simplicity or uninspired slab?

  • Article by: JIM FOTI , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 9, 2007 - 9:11 PM

As Minnesotans got acquainted with the design of the new I-35W bridge on Tuesday, opinions were all over the map. The design could still evolve as suggestions and criticism come in.

New I-35W bridge design
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New I-35W bridge design.

It'll bridge the Mississippi River, but will it bridge a gap in perceptions?

On the first full day after the design of the new Interstate 35W bridge was made public, Minnesotans debated its merits on the radio, on the Internet and at work, and opinions ranged from elation to deep disappointment.

Aaron Landry of Minneapolis said his first reaction was that the state was replacing "a structurally deficient bridge with an aesthetically deficient one," but his views softened Tuesday after he visited the Minnesota Department of Transportation website and checked out the designs that didn't win. "Out of the choices, this is the best one," he said.

Mark Losli, who lives and works in downtown Minneapolis, called the concrete box-girder bridge by Flatiron Constructors and Figg Engineering "pretty standard" but said he was impressed with the observation areas at the foot of the piers and the possibility of a pedestrian bridge being suspended from the deck.

Jen LaViolette, who commutes from Richfield to Arden Hills, expects to use the $234 million bridge twice a day. "There are some very beautiful bridges in that area, and they don't need to be overpowered by something that's really big and grotesque and ornate," she said, approving of the understated design.

Minneapolis City Council Member Diane Hofstede, whose ward includes neighborhoods on the north end of the bridge, said that she's very happy about the green space and walkways and that the design "is going to be evolving" as residents offer more ideas.

It's too late, however, for the design to evolve enough to please Ed Kodet, a Minneapolis architect, who said the bridge was "very disappointing" and "an opportunity lost." He describes it as "design-build" without the design and said the bridge "borders on a disgrace because it doesn't really have enough inspiration to serve as a memorial."

The new bridge "isn't much different than the normal viaduct you see out of concrete," he said.

Tom DeAngelo, president-elect of the Minnesota chapter of the American Institute of Architects, said he's unhappy with the state's design process, which didn't allow the public to see individual designs before one was chosen. "It seems like the public input is pretty well controlled and restricted to simple things like color and shape," he said. MnDOT has forwarded comments to designers.

Jan Evans of Monticello would rather have seen the contract go to one of the Midwestern teams that built many state bridges. State officials are "more interested in how beautiful the bridge looks" than in saving taxpayers money, she said.

She's also unimpressed with the design of the bridge's guardrails, touted for allowing views of the river. "These people should be paying attention to their driving instead of looking at the river," she said.

Linda Figg, head of Figg Engineering, described the bridge Tuesday as "a modern, functional sculpture" and encouraged skeptics to attend the main community design meeting that will be held later this month to learn how decisions were made.

Kodet wants public discourse to continue. "In the end, architecture criticism sort of elevates the work of the entire community," he said.

Jim Foti • 612-673-4491

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