Plagued with what experts have termed “concrete cancer,” Los Angeles’s Sixth Street Viaduct is cheating death by opting for something we might call “concrete cosmetic surgery.” The 1932 Merrill Butler-designed Los Angeles River bridge was recently the subject of a major design competition launched by the L.A. Bureau of Engineering. Last Friday, the jury announced its selection of a winning design by HNTB, Michael Maltzan Architecture, and AC Martin Partners, an ambitious proposal that will turn a handsome $401-million sum into an ostentatious new work of infrastructure.
The winning design stole the competition with its allusion to the loping arches of Butler’s original design (pictured right). A series of large, dramatically curving concrete arcs flanking the length of the bridge will add a Mannerist touch to the Los Angeles cityscape and accommodate pedestrian and cyclist traffic, a programmatic theme that ran through many competing schemes. We detect a west coast strain of High Line fever here, with a crumbling work of infrastructure once again pivoting into an opportunity for ostensibly civic-minded, high-brow, “experiential” architecture (behold Los Angeles as you have never ever seen it before!).
Like the High Line, the new Sixth Street Viaduct is intended to revitalize the surrounding area. According to The Architect’s Newspaper, a program of new playgrounds, sports facilities, pedestrian promenades, readapted industrial buildings, and other public and private spaces is expected to take root under the eastern span of the bridge. With Grand Park, another new municipal downtown locale, open to the public as of this July, it seems as if Los Angeles is taking enormous strides towards cultivating a pedestrian-and-cyclist culture and weening itself off its motor vehicle love/hate affair. The Sixth Street Viaduct is expected to complete construction in 2018.
- Kelly Chan