In the mid-century, Providence’s cohesiveness was abruptly interrupted by the construction of Interstate I-195 which severed a main city District and the riverfront from the downtown core.

Project Statistics

Location: Providence, RI
Cost: $21.9 million
Area: 15,170 sf
Span: 394’ (Abutment B2 to Abutment B8)
Client: RIDOT / City of Providence
Project Team: INFORM Studio (Architecture)
Michael Guthrie, Cory Lavigne, Ken Van Tine, Azubike Ononye, Pandush Gaqi, Tom Provost, Anna Haezebrouck
Partners: BuroHappold Engineering (Structural)
CJL Engineering (Electrical)
BETA Group (Landscape Architecture)

Contractor:  Daniel O’Connell’s Sons (General Contractor)
SITU Fabrication (Wana Fascia)
Photography: Steve Kroodsma – www.kroo.photography

Providence Pedestrian Bridge By INFORM Studio - Sheet4
©Steve Kroodsma

In 1995 the Providence Foundation and the City of Providence requested the relocation of Interstate I-195 to reconnect and reactivate this marginalized portion of the city. Following the extensive planning efforts of several public agencies, foundations, business owners, residents and non-profit institutions, the district has been reconnected and a city is emerging that did not exist a decade prior. In August 2019 the Providence River Pedestrian Bridge opened and the substantial increase of activity that followed is clear evidence of how smart planning and thoughtful design can yield catalytic results, both social and economic. Performing as an urban mediator, the bridge not only creates a direct connection between new waterfront parks but has also generated numerous opportunities for economic growth and programmatic interventions to encourage community connection and social engagement.

Providence Pedestrian Bridge By INFORM Studio - Sheet6
©Steve Kroodsma

Background

In the early 1990’s the Providence Foundation and the City of Providence requested that the intersection of I-95 and I-195 be relocated as it physically isolated the City’s downtown core from both the Jewelry District and its waterfront. In 1997, the Rhode Island Dept. of Transportation (RIDOT) agreed to the change and the I-195 Relocation Project commenced. As the project neared completion the potential for two new waterfront parks along the Providence River emerged. These future parks were separated by the Providence River – hence the need for a new pedestrian bridge.

In 2010 The City of Providence held a design competition to select a team for the Pedestrian Bridge project.  The proposal presented an exciting opportunity to weave together the design themes of the City’s history and emerging future as a center of innovation, design excellence and creative / knowledge-based businesses and industries. It was mandated that the proposed bridge incorporate the five existing piers as a primary design element. The bridge would accommodate walkers, bikers, runners & strollers, while providing adequate seating and passive gathering spaces along the bridge span.  The city received qualifications from 47 international design teams and INFORM Studio and BuroHappold were selected.

Providence Pedestrian Bridge By INFORM Studio - Sheet8
©Steve Kroodsma

The Solution

As a part of the Waterfront Park Master Plan, the Providence River Pedestrian Bridge had a significant responsibility to unify the East and West Park spaces into an integrated public environment synthesizing both urban and natural conditions. The alignment of the bridge simultaneously considers fluid movement through the city, orientation and views during the procession, and frames of view toward the bridge as an artistic object itself. Circulation of pedestrians and cyclists is thought of as a series of tentacles gathering and dispersing travelers from numerous regions and directions. The east side of the bridge splinters into varying directions indicating subtle axis towards James Street, Transit Street, and a continuity of movement along the riverfront walk to both the north and the south. The west side abuts a 4.5 acre park which is designed to enhance views and connectivity to the downtown, riverfront walk and burgeoning development in the Jewelry / Innovation District.

The form of the pedestrian bridge is characterized directly by programming considerations, orientation of access, views (urban and natural), and the amazing dichotomy between the history of Providence and the future of innovation. From 17th and 18th century tall ships to late 19th and early 20th century jewelry factories, timber construction characterized much of the celebrated beauty of historical Providence. Wood construction is still prized today for its old-world character and warmth.  With modern innovations this exceptionally versatile material was used to capture formal characteristics reminiscent of historical ships while simultaneously transitioning into an innovative contemporary solution. The Providence River Pedestrian Bridge is immersed within a duality of synthesizing the traditional materials of granite and wood into programs that can feel both substantial and fluid, weaving an occupiable ground plane into a seamless connection between the east and west.  The project results have been cited as a precedent-setting solution for a number of bridge projects due to this innovative re-use of abandoned public infrastructure.

Providence Pedestrian Bridge By INFORM Studio - Sheet9
©Steve Kroodsma

Programming

The programming of the pedestrian bridge magnifies the connectivity of residential districts, commerce, tourism and culture. Further it opens potential for environmental interpretive nodes educating both residents and visitors about the history and ecology of the Providence, Seekonk and Taunton Rivers, as well as the Narragansett Bay.

The success of the City of Providence developing arts, culture and tourism coupled with the vision for the Waterfront Parks have allowed the city to continue emerging as an international cultural destination. The approach to the bridge design considered the momentum generated through numerous events and festivals that identify with the past, present and future of the city, such as Sound Session, PrideFest, PRONK!, and the integration of WaterFire. The bridge manipulates form to create occupiable zones with significant frequency, thereby maintaining a connected urban space from DownCity and the Jewelry / Innovation District into the West Waterfront Park and over to the East Waterfront Park.  Bridge programming included:

Providence Pedestrian Bridge By INFORM Studio - Sheet11
©Steve Kroodsma
  • Garden Planters | separating the upper and lower bridge decks the terraced garden creates an ambiguous relationship between park and bridge. Continuity of seamless program eliminates a condition of threshold as visitors meander over the water.
  • City View Benches | A scattering of unique seating zones across the bridge p prime viewing regions aligned with the point of the river junction and city skyline to the north and the Point Street Bridge & I-195 crossing to the south.
  • Busker Terrace | A cascading terrace to the south provides an ideal space for seated views with maximized solar exposure. The terrace provides built-in versatility with limitless use potential: capturing a moment of relaxation, enjoying the view with coffee and a companion, or taking advantage of an informal congregation.
  • Sundeck | Close to the water, the deck affords connectivity to the river water below. Southern exposure and unobstructed space creates a great environment for taking in summer sun rays.
  • Fishing Piers | Access to the existing piers provides close proximity to the water for local fishing.

Lighting Design

The lighting design objectives aim to establish the Providence River Pedestrian Bridge as a landmark and identifiable icon within the community while providing the necessary considerations for safety and a subtle lighting strategy. Utilization of indirect and concealed integral fixtures provide an unobtrusive lighting design strategy.  Lighting elements include:

  • Indirect and Integral LED Handrail Lighting at both the Upper and Lower decks
  • LED Accent Lighting washing the underside of the bridge at the existing piers.
  • Concealed LED Accent Lighting at the terrace tiers.
  • Concealed LED Accent Lighting under the benches and integrated into the tables.
  • Indirect LED bollard lighting in the Garden Planters
Providence Pedestrian Bridge By INFORM Studio - Sheet13
©Steve Kroodsma

Digital Fabrication

Several architectural components of the project (wana wood fascia cladding; stainless steel guardrail and handrails and site furniture) required digital fabrication to achieve the narrow tolerances between design representation and the physical manifestation of the complex three-dimensional surface.

We partnered closely with a Digital Fabrication Team (SITU Fabrication) to develop the component details as they related to each other and the overall bridge superstructure.  Using parametric tools to develop the internal structure for each panel, the team was able to modularize the larger system for efficiency while preserving the unique form and outer surface curves.  The result accelerated the production schedule and reduced material waste and costs.

Wood Construction

Several options for a decking material were considered early in the process and following extensive research it was determined that a South American Hardwood Ipe would exceed several objectives established by the design team and the client.   The species inherent resistance to rot & decay, extreme density & durability, and estimated life span of 75+ years made it the ideal choice for a high traffic public environment.

Wana wood was used for the vertical fascia of the bridge.  Commonly used in boat building, Wana maintains several of the advantageous properties found in the Ipe decking, but provides increased workability which was required to achieve the multi-layered curvature of the outer façade.

Material Innovation

The Wana fascia cladding, which wraps both sides of the multi-level bridge was divided into 250 demountable modular panels to facilitate long-term maintenance and access to the steel superstructure for inspection and repair.

©Steve Kroodsma

Using parametric tools to develop the internal structure for each panel, the team was able to modularize the larger system for efficiency while preserving the unique form and outer surface curves.  The result accelerated the production schedule and reduced material waste and costs.  Dense species like Wana are resistant to steam-bending, so the fabrication team used a kerfing technique, cutting from the backside to give each board more flexibility to achieve the curved profile.

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