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10.19.2012
The New Wave
HNTB's soaring design wins LA's Sixth Street Viaduct competition.
Courtesy HNTB

Downtown Los Angeles is about to get a lot curvier.

The competition to redesign one of LA’s great landmarks—its Sixth Street Viaduct—finally ended today, with HNTB’s surprisingly challenging scheme, made up of ten sets of concrete arches wildly winding across the Los Angeles River, taking the commission.

The Sixth Street Bridge, an instantly recognizable Art Deco span designed in 1932, was one of a series of nine overpasses built atop the Los Angeles River between 1923 and 1933. Although imbedded in the city’s psyche and a mainstay of movies and television shows, it was recently proclaimed unsalvageable due to irreversible decay, and last spring the city’s Bureau of Engineering called for a competition to design a new, $400 million, cable stayed structure. The other teams competing for the job were heavyweights AECOM and Parsons Brinckerhoff.

 
 

"Los Angeles is where the world creates and innovates,” said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. “The selection of HNTB as the winning team reaffirms our ability to cultivate and attract the best and brightest in architecture, design, and engineering right here in Los Angeles.”

HNTB’s team also includes Michael Maltzan Architecture, AC Martin, and Hargreaves Associates. Their design, inspired by the “cinematic” experience of crossing the Sixth Street Viaduct, echoes the existing bridge’s rounded shape.  The staccato rhythm of rough concrete arches will create a memorable experience by car or on foot. In fact some of the arches actually contain pedestrian pathways atop them, combining circulation and architecture, a rare feat that will create very unique perspectives of the city. The walkways will also make their way down to street level, maintaining an important connection to the ground and the river.

 

Below the bridge the scheme is full of life and will hopefully bring pedestrian activity and commercial viability to an area that, while bordering the Arts District and Boyle Heights, is currently car dominated and unremarkable. The plan contains a hard-scaped Arts Plaza under the bridge’s western span, containing a café, outdoor seating, a lookout, and terraced riverbank hardscape. Nearer to the bridge it contains a slightly softer Viaduct Park, containing a promenade, amphitheater, and skate park. Under and around the bridge’s eastern span the plan includes the Boyle Heights Gateway, which will consist of playgrounds, sports facilities, a pedestrian promenade, a transit plaza, a lookout point, and the adaptive re-use of existing industrial buildings, a vital extension of the city’s Clean Tech Corridor on the other side of the river.

All three competing schemes incorporated pedestrian-friendly designs and iconic profiles. While HNTB’s scheme struck a chord in the design community, many thought AECOM and Parsons Brinckerhoff might have the upper hand because of their experience and clout. HNTB’s design appeared to be the most ambitious of the three, and some worried that it would be too costly. HNTB team members have pointed out that the easily replicate-able forms and ultra thin deck, among other factors, will keep costs down.

The bridge will be paid for substantially by state and federal funds, with only about one percent coming from the city. The design is set to be ready by 2014, with construction completed by 2018.

Sam Lubell