Walk the Line: On the proposed pedway crossing on Duckworth

Aug 04 2011

King Kong knows a good pedway when he sees one.

How do you design something from the future that looks like it’s from the past?

The city has recently rejected the recommendations of the Heritage Committee regarding the development of a pedway crossing over Duckworth Street. Council concluded that, before this development proposal for an extension to the Marriot Hotel be allowed to proceed, a set of guidelines for pedway design was necessary to avoid a possible future filled with hideous dystopian skywalks.

“Are we trying to encourage a proliferation of ugly pedways across the city?” asked Councillor O’Leary, who expressed concern over the unregulated development.

Of course, the reason why there is no existing template for pedways in heritage areas in this city is because there are no old pedways.

And as for pedways in general, well, honestly we have no successful architectural precedents for dealing with these things. The Heritage Committee is right: MUN, Mile One, The Avalon Mall… Not that they are going to fall apart, but for the most part they aren’t exactly what you would call inspired.

Pedways are a powerful and evocative urban form, with the potential to be really interesting or really awful. They are necessarily futurist, in peoples’ imaginations and in film. The form of the pedway conjures all sorts of imagery of grain silos, factories, assembly lines, robotic industrial spaces. In Gary Burns’ 2001 movie Waydowntown, a group of co-workers make a bet on who can stay indoors the longest without going insane, using the Calgary “Skywalk” network connecting office buildings and malls. For Calgary, the pedway is an artery of corporate movement, an icon of dreary cubicle life. In other films, it’s a sign of super-futuristic urbanity. Think Tim Burton’s Gotham City, and even Metropolis from 1927, these sets use pedways as a part of a dystopic, overly-mechanized future.

But pedways don’t have to be like that. An international competition to design a pedestrian bridge was just won by Barcelona architecture firm Sanzpont, whose bizarre and awesome entry is worth looking up. Called the DSSH Bridge, it looks like a cross between a bio-luminscent deep sea creature and an insect chrysalis. Here, the pedway represents an opportunity for experimental architecture, and a dramatic experiential space for people.

It’s difficult to say with certainty whether or not the absence of regulation will cause the proliferation of ugly pedways. The Marriot Hotel expansion’s proposed pedway design (designed without regulations) is so far pretty innocuous, and it could turn out to be a great addition to downtown. We don’t have endless blocks of 20-storey towers to connect, we don’t exactly have a great public transit network to expand upon, nor do we have developers that are very open to experimentation. Nonetheless, this is an opportunity to influence a precedent, and so council is right to take it seriously. In the case of this project, it’s a heritage area but not a heritage form.

Even though the pedway has gritty urban dystopic connotations in film, and in the real world the form represents a cold functionalism which is antithetical to heritage areas, there is a chance here to do something interesting in a very visible place, something that could become a new iconic form for downtown St. John’s architecture.

Omission from last months’ report on the Southcott Awards: The design of Littledale/ The Tower Corporate Campus was by Sheppard Case Architects, who recieved a Southcott Award for this project.

8 responses so far

  1. Blending the new and the old is a balancing act. Thanks for this article.

    By the way, the Dynamic Shape-Shifting Helix (DSSH) Bridge is pretty innovative. The lighting at night reminds me of U2′s giant concert stage, nicknamed the Claw, from their recent 360 tour.

  2. To whom (counselors, committees) can we email our thoughts on this?

  3. Wrong. Most of us do not see pedways as dystopian or anything of the sort. It’s a convenience, and one that has likely saved pedestrian lives I might add, especially in the case of the ones that cross over the parkway at MUN. Some things don’t need to be over-analyzed, and this is one of them. And we also don’t need artistic vision involved, unless the business owner is willing to pay the extra money. It’s a pedestrian walkway, nothing more.

  4. I agree. This idea that the Pedways are ugly isn’t concrete (forgive the pun), it’s an opinion. Some like brick, some like glass and some like steel. And while it’s true that they don’t have to look the way that they do, it isn’t TRULY vindicative that we’re “overly-mechanized”.

    An artistic vision would help us re-imagine the pedway, give it it’s own identity apart from it’s attached buildings and would certainly make them memorable. For next time, a simple “In my opinion,” pre-fixture before your thoughts won’t make the article sound so arrogant.

  5. personally, I think it’s about breaking the line of sight – looking down Duckworth from Zachary’s will change, and not for the better. force them to pay the city to do it under the road?
    on a side note, on the subject of pedways, the NL govt. and eastern health have been missing this point for eons. that ANY staff member, nurse, patient, or anyone to have to struggle to find parking, and then walk up to 1 KM to the Health sciences building is R.I.D.I.C.U.L.O.U.S. in this day and age.
    the parking lot needs to be built UP and not out further from the building, AND there should be a pedway to the building. the mall can do it, so why can’t Eastern Health get it right?

  6. Agreed.
    If they were to connect a pedway from the new Parking structure at MUN over, that’d be great, but at the same time would look very odd as it goes such a long distance.

    I think the solution there is to merge 2 options, and have a Pedway over the river, and a tunnel on the other side to HSC.

    Id’ be nice if it merged with the rest of the MUNNEL, but I think the river and a tunnel under may be a little too difficult for engineers here to grasp.

    In relation to the proposed pedway downtown, if the second building matches the look of the first, then how or why would it look out of place, if the pedway matched the design as well?

    Line of sight in that area would be obstructed, but, what is there to see? A line of cars parked on both sides, the “Humpty Dumpty Bldg”, or a Hotel.
    [http://maps.google.ca/maps?hl=en&ll=47.569722,-52.701502&spn=0.00705,0.020299&t=h&z=16&layer=c&cbll=47.569491,-52.70177&panoid=9Un7ta6iupRveddWD7i7vw&cbp=12,219.59,,0,-2.09]

  7. It´s not that any type of architecture is ugly, it´s just that architecture in St. John´s generally tends to be unimaginative. A little creativity is needed to make something beautiful. It´s ironic that a place famed for being steeped in the arts is physically just the opposite when it comes to new buildings. To be frank, developers and architects need to step up.

    Likewise, the heritage regulations could do with another look. When a building can or should be done in heritage style, fine. But there were no giant condo buildings here in the 1800s. Putting wide trim and vinyl siding on a modern condo doesn´t make it fit in. Better to go the other direction. A building can be modern and yet still fit aesthetically into a heritage area.

  8. Pedestrian walkways don’t need to be “beautiful”, they’re supposed to be functional, that’s it. It’s just an elevated crosswalk. Not everything needs to be about architecture, some things are just meant to be cheap and functional. What some of you are saying is akin to believing we should have world-class artists painting our crosswalks and road lines. I’m sure some of you would like that, but it’s not practical and certainly not necessary. I hope the city leaves these hotel owners alone and lets them put up whatever type of pedway they damn well please.