Delight – George Washington Bridge

Delight – George Washington Bridge – Brief Article

Catherine Slessor

A MUCH LOVED PART OF THE NEW YORK SKYLINE, THE GEORGE WASHINGTON BRIDGE HAS BEEN REINVIGORATED BY AN INNOVATIVE LIGHTING SCHEME THAT DRAMATICALLY ILLUMINATES ITS EXPOSED STEEL STRUCTURE.

Elegantly linking the upper reaches of Manhattan with New Jersey, the George Washington Bridge was an icon of its time, combining technological progress with formal refinement. Completed in 1931 to designs of Cass Gilbert and Swiss civil engineer Othar H. Ammann, its 3500ft span doubled the then record for suspension bridges and its dramatic open steel towers and curving cables inspired Le Corbusier to hail it as ‘the only seat of grace in the disordered city’. However, the lattice-like form was actually the serendipitous outcome of cost cutting. Ammann had originally intended that the two 604ft tall support towers be clad in granite, but the onset of the Great Depression necessitated severe cuts in the bridge’s budget, making stone unaffordable. Yet despite initial misgivings, Ammann quickly rallied to the notion of exposed steel and the armatures of the twin towers are powerful and dignified expressions of engineering design. In 1946, the original six lanes of traffic were increased to eight and in 1962 a l ower level was added. Last year 108 million vehicles crossed ‘the George’.

Despite the addition in the 1960s of pole-mounted floodlights to illuminate the roadway, plans to light the entire structure never materialized. This state of affairs has recently been addressed by a new lighting scheme by Domingo Gonzalez Associates. The practice has collaborated with New York’s Port Authority on various transportation lighting projects and won an invited competition to illuminate the entire bridge. The project focuses on the twin towers, which glow radiantly from within like crystals, adding to Manhattan’s twinkling cityscape. A series of carefully positioned 1000-watt metal halide uplighters supply clear white light that evenly illuminates the steel cages. Sadly this dazzling light-show is reserved for high days and holidays, but even so, it splendidly reinvigorates and celebrates a much-loved historic structure.

COPYRIGHT 2001 EMAP Architecture

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group