The Providence River Pedestrian and Bicycle Bridge continues a shipbuilding tradition

In Good Providence

The Providence River Pedestrian and Bicycle Bridge continues a shipbuilding tradition

The bridge connects to the Jewelry/Innovation District, which has been revitalized after I-195 was rerouted. (Steve Kroodsma/Kroo Photography)

Though the gently curving wood surfaces of the Providence River Pedestrian and Bicycle Bridge evoke the ships that once sailed into this New England port, the bridge is physically connected to the history of a much less picturesque form of transportation: Interstate 195. That’s because the new crossing stands on the granite piers that supported one of the highway’s viaducts before the interstate was rerouted in the 1990s. Rather than spend $2 million to remove the old piers, the city used them for a new pedestrian bridge, which opened last year and links two new waterfront parks on the edges of the Jewelry/Innovation District and the Fox Point neighborhood.

An ipe bridge
Parametrically designed Wana wood panels clad the bridge’s sides. (Steve Kroodsma/Kroo Photography)

Detroit- and Chicago-based practice INFORM Studio designed the bridge to be more than just an urban link. Built-in benches, a wildflower garden, and terraced seating leading down to a lower-level deck all invite passersby to pause, gather, and take in the surrounding cityscape.

Aerial section of a bridge
The bridge reuses the old granite piers of a demolished I-195 crossing. (Courtesy INFORM Studio)

The designers chose ipe decking for horizontal surfaces because of its durability, important in a high-traffic environment, and Wana wood for the bridge deck’s vertical siding because it’s flexible enough to handle those surfaces’ complex curves. Even so, Wana wood is resistant to steam bending, so craftspeople at SITU Fabrication used a kerfing technique to make members more flexible. All of the siding is segmented into 250 demountable modular panels that can be easily removed for maintenance of the underlying structure.

Looking down a long bridge with a dog on it
The design team created custom railings and built-in seating. (Steve Kroodsma/Kroo Photography)

Other details—like the custom railing crafted by Michigan-based Future Fabricating and the atmospheric lighting using Wagner, Philips, and SENSO products—add to the bridge’s warmth and distinct sense of place.

“The bridge has become a visual symbol of renewal within the city,” said INFORM Studio principal Cory Lavigne, who was the design director and project architect. “[It] has become a precedent for several cities considering the economic feasibility of reusing abandoned infrastructure to reconnect and revitalize their communities.”

Providence River Pedestrian and Bicycle Bridge as seen from above
The bridge flares to include terraced seating with a wildflower garden. (Steve Kroodsma/Kroo Photography)

Architect: INFORM Studio
Location: Providence, Rhode Island
Structural engineer:
Buro Happold
Civil engineer: CDR Maguire
Lighting designers: INFORM Studio, CJL Engineering
Lighting manufacturers: Wagner (Lumenlinear), Philips (ColorGraze), SENSO (Cutlass)
Railing fabricator: Future Fabricating
Wana wood panel fabricator: SITU Fabrication
Ipe decking supplier: General Woodcraft
Furniture fabricator: Millwork One