“As urban designers, we must work as surgeons or auto mechanics and repair the diverse broken parts of the city”. (Roger Trancik, 1986)
In a post-modern contemporary age with an alarming increase in population, cities are running out of space and energy for substantial public places. As urbanization trends shoot up, urban designers and planners are seeking innovative measures to balance the quality of life within the available quantity of space. In comes, our villain turned hero – flyovers!
As the auto mobilization era came to an end, flyovers once praised as saviors were labeled as criminals charged with the crime of sucking out life and vitality in cities. These giant structures disrupted urban patterns, city connectivity, and left behind assorted spaces inapplicable for proper defined usage. Today, we see a revolutionary shift in perspective – creative recycling of used spaces instead of creating new ones. From small patches to long corridors, simple actions to intense public projects, we see this attitude kindled in a wide range of spatial typologies by designers and communities alike.
This article introduces you to 15 amazing projects that have successfully translated the dark, forlorn under-flyover spaces to warm, welcoming spaces through the imaginative use of art, light, and design.
1. Underpass Park
Location: Toronto, Canada
Area: 2.5 acre
With an additional incentive of being a post-industrial site, this park underneath the Gardiner Expressway embraces the existing structural framework and geometry to create playful ‘outdoor rooms’. The project employs light and airy plants, wood-topped flowy furniture, and diffused lighting to combat the hard and heavy structure of the overpass. While flexible programming helps retain the original transitory experience, it also encourages creative use by the local community. Moreover, the color-lit columns and ribbon walls blend the functional needs of safety barriers and night-time security with artistic expression. Thus, an apt combination of art, light, and furniture creatively transforms this forlorn, forbidden space to an active communal park.
Location: Zaanstad, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Area: 22,500 sqm
This exciting riverside intervention stirred up a social revival by uniting the urban fabric torn apart by the A8 motorway cutting through the small town. Designed with an optimistic lens, the monumental flyover structure directs spatial programming attracting the locals with diverse activities under one big umbrella. A unique mini harbor encouraging water activities and providing stunning views effectively blurs the river edge. The visually heavy columns are creatively camouflaged by various means like timber panels and lit-up lettering giving the space an artistic touch. Executed with a participative approach, its recognition as a landmark highlights the substantial success of this unusual urban intervention.
3. The Underline
Location: Miami, Florida
Area: Over 120 acres – 250 miles long
Currently, under construction, this linear park by James Corner Field Operations is one of the largest of its kind. Aiming at multi-modal transport connectivity, the design is also character-based deriving from the interests and aspirations of the local community. Interestingly, attention is being paid to natural habitats with a native ecosystem categorization guiding the vegetation track of the project while local artwork is set to present the creative face of the project. The project is exclusive in that it combines a necessary function like mobility while bringing to life a dead space and creating a social public arena without cutting into the precious city space. Set to be a forerunner in this contemporary urban category, this project is one that is worth keeping an eye on.
4. Fly the flyover
Location: Kowloon East, Hong Kong
Area: 8500 sqm
With a prime location in one of the core business districts of Hong Kong, the project is aimed at recovering the unused space beneath the Kwun Tong Bypass as a vibrant public space. Having come to life in three phases, the flexible space is a platform for diverse public activities. An exotic feature of the project is the colorful murals on the columns depicting the local narrative of the urbanscape taking viewers on a journey depicting a historic past, creative present, and sustainable future. Taking a different turn to other public spaces in the area, the site uses recycled materials like freight containers and hosts sensory play equipment, skillful entertainment, and spectacular views across the river and the city skyline giving users a unique taste of the Kowloon cityscape.
5. The Underline – Caulfield to Dandenong
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Area: 22 hectares
In a revolutionary endeavor, the design team employed to design the Caulfield to Dandenong rail refurbishment had intentionally embraced the spaces underneath the proposed overhead network. The result has been stunning with community involvement, sustainable design and site management, and intelligent interdisciplinary coordination. Hubs of community-specific public spaces like gardens, open gyms, playgrounds, and sports zones have been created along the linear park with each hub reflecting the surrounding suburb in its character, programming, style, and materiality. The unifying factor amidst this diversity is a common architectural language adopted throughout like textual expressions of the first three letters of the place at each station.
6. The Bentway
Connecting neighborhoods and directing access to the revitalized waterfront, the derelict stretch under the Gardiner Expressway now hosts communal entertainment activities all year round. Originally designed to fly over connecting lower levels, the Expressway above lies at a five-story height leaving this unusual high-ceilinged open space. Banking on this peculiarity and the monumentality of the structure, space is designed in a volatile flexible manner to allow a wide range of activities from regular walk/bike/run trail to seasonal skating to occasional performances. The aspect that truly sets this ongoing project apart is the management directive with a seasonal calendar of events to generate consistent interest and the focus on an embedded role in the city’s future public space network.
7. Claiborne Corridor
Location: New Orleans, USA
Area: 8500 sqm
With an emotionally charged context, the space underneath the uplifted Interstate 10 section is the heart and soul of a long-lived community. With decades of history underlying the surface, the new agenda is recreating the essence of the down-trodden culture while enhancing the potential of the forgotten space. With columns depicting oaks reinforcing ties to the original oak grove of the past to interventions like container stalls catering to the development of the local economy, this project is a historical engagement of the usually unseen intangible aspects of culture and society. With a primary focus on rebuilding a broken community, this project would have impactful lessons for resilient design aimed at disaster-hit communities.
8. San Antonio Riverwalk
Location: San Antonio, USA
In an intriguing scenario of art dispelling fear, the artistic installations under the I-35 freeway along the San Antonio river are surprising and attractive with a mixture of humor and intelligence. Users experience gigantic models of native fish ‘swimming’ in the air which are bound to make people laugh and the atmosphere light. Further, the smart use of illusion in the suspended panels where the colors seem to shift as the viewer moves contributes to the urban play. A key success in this project was the way people made it their own like celebrating the moment the fish are lit up each night as a communal occasion creating an opportunity for social interaction.
9. Ballroom Luminoso
Location: San Antonio
In a simple, yet magical gesture, artists have translated a dark muddy patch under the I-35 freeway to a public disco room. Spectacularly rooted in the community’s passion for bikes, the six huge chandeliers which are the heart of the transformation are composed of recycled bike parts with the composition narrating a story of their heritage as well as their aspirations. An elegant play of light and shadow ensures this place is lively with or without the people element. This award-winning project expresses the tiniest details in the chandeliers as colorful shadows drawing attention to the beauty and intricacy of the design and the power of artistic fantasies in the public realm.
10. Burnside SkatePark
Location: Portland, Oregon
A true testament to what community passion can do – a dirty bridge underside has become a pilgrimage for skateboarders of all ages. In what claims to be a first-of-its-kind project, the Burnside SkatePark was born from a bunch of locals who breathed and lived skating making their rinks challenging themselves. Having withstood the legal pressure of using ‘no man’s land’, the challenge of consistent upkeeping, and the test of time, this unexpected park has become the cultural icon of the city.
11. Folly for flyover
Location: Hackney Wick, UK
The temporary installation under the A12 motorway in 2011 was a grand example of architecture creating monumental moments that shift perspective, engage communities, and induce change. Built-in a voluntary team effort using reclaimed material and involving over 40,000 people, the public entertainment venue was successful in drawing participants, performers, and audiences through the summer of its presence. What’s more, is it had unearthed the potential in this forgotten space which had afterward been employed as a public space for the local community.
12. Under the Flyover
Location: Bangalore, India
Identifying the potential in dirty spots in public spaces is expertise picked on by ‘The Ugly Indians’ – an anonymous group of concerned locals who went about showing the world what the community can do to make better living places. An initiative unique in every way, the UFO was a creative effort birthed in a common citizen’s concerned mind to transform the neglected, defaced spaces underneath the garden city’s multiple flyovers. The simple-looking intervention was powerful in uniting the community from onlookers pitching into advertisers refraining from defacing the artwork. A stunning depiction of the power of design, the process has been effective in shifting the way people perceive their city, inducing a sense of belonging and responsibility, and effectively influencing the people’s attitudes and behaviors.
13. Aspire, Sydney
Location: Sydney, Australia
A peculiar use of art to combat crime, this dark, anti-societal space under the Western Distributor at Ultimo is now a mystical grove. Designed to resolve a practical issue, this group of lit upright trees seemingly holding up the freeway also hold a deep meaning acknowledging the community that held away from the freeway installation from destroying their homes. Another key challenge of catering to the varied user group is addressed by the flexibility of being a bright sculpture for fast-paced car users and a subtle ethereal park for pedestrian users.
14. Craiglinn Underpass
Location: Cumbernauld, Scotland
What began as a local school student project has transformed the experience of an underpass on the daily route to school to a journey of cultural value and local expertise. With a mixture of energy-efficient lighting and colorful murals, the walk becomes an interactive experience of awe and mystery. Built into the narrative is the cultural history with colors and lights set to natural rhythms of sunset, twilight, and night. The project stands as an elegant example of combining modern technology, local materials, and cultural history to create a contemporary space.
15. Crossroads Project
Location: Milwaukee, US
In a story of layered transformation, the Holton Street viaduct included a Marsupial Bridge for pedestrian and bike mobility which brought the focus to space underneath transforming it into a Media Garden. This however was not so popular among residents and was ‘vandalized’ into a swing park inducing the local community with enthusiasm. In an unfortunate turn of events, space was dismantled into an urban disaster but not before leaving us with valuable lessons on community engagement, interdisciplinary coordination, and sustainable management goals.
- Crossroads ©ladallman.com
- Crossroads ©ladallman.com
- Crossroads ©rudybruneraward.org