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Imagine Tacoma: Set the Chihuly Bridge Free
Lars Gemzoe’s presentation to the Tacoma City Council last week reinforced the basic historic concept that urban design is about the space between buildings – and that great urban spaces are conceived first and the buildings are designed to support this framework (which was hammered home the following night at the James Howard Kunstler Lecture when reviewing contemporary architecture and its relationship to the public realm).
So Imagine Tacoma project #5 revisits the design of the terminus of the Chihuly Bridge at Pacific Avenue next to the Washington State History Museum. Here within one block is a fine public urban space contribution to the City of Tacoma next to an embarrassing urban design hiccup.
The design of the History Museum and its grand arch at the terminus of South 19th Street at the foot of the UWT hill-climb is an urban gesture of compelling quality – with the arch having the added bonus of framing the tilted hot-shop cone of the Museum of Glass. And yet, right next door the Chihuly Bridge is ‘fenced off’ from Pacific Avenue – caged in to force pedestrians to detour through the Museum’s arch in hopes of spurring additional patronage to the Museum and related retail.
This is a classic example of parochial interests not understanding the greater community benefit of its actions – and how ironic it is a museum devoted to history that has taken this position.
The claim that a fence is needed in this location to stop vehicles from driving on the plaza above the subterranean auditorium below is a total red herring. Large decorative bollards spaced equally along the existing fence line will provide the needed protection – and has been a successful urban design tool for centuries (and provides some of the leaning/sitting amenity that Gemzoe presented as one of his 12 quality urban design elements).
So set the Chihuly Bridge free. Demonstratively celebrate this magnificent pedestrian connection to the Thea Foss – with maybe another Chihuly lollipop at the entrance from Pacific Avenue to herald its location on the Avenue.
If the History Museum would like additional presence along the bridge, install a kiosk to direct and entice pedestrians to become patrons (and maybe sell Chihuly ‘pops’ in the gift store?). This is an easy ‘fix’ and one that will only enhance the quality of the urban space as well at the esteem of the History Museum.
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