Greater City Providence

The winner is Team 10, inFORM studio/Buro Happold


Mayor’s Press Release:

Award-winning Design Firm Selected to Shape the Future of Providence’s New Pedestrian Bridge

Tuesday, December 14, 2010
inFORM Studio has been chosen to design the pedestrian bridge that will replace the old I-195 bridge and link Fox Point and College Hill to downtown

PROVIDENCE – Mayor David N. Cicilline announced that the design submitted by inFORM Studio in association with the engineering firm Buro Happold has been selected as the winner of the Providence Pedestrian Bridge Design Competition. inFORM Studio, whose website states the firm takes an environmentally sustainable approach to every project, is an award-winning design-based practice with offices in Michigan, New York and South Carolina.

“I want to thank the members of the Pedestrian Bridge Design Selection Committee for their extraordinary commitment, passion and dedication to this process,” said Mayor Cicilline. “We received incredible designs from all over the world and I want to commend the Selection Committee for creating a fair, transparent and inclusive selection process that encouraged input from the entire community.”

The bridge, which will be a defining landmark on Providence’s waterfront, will be used by pedestrians and cyclists alike and connect Fox Point and College Hill with downtown and the Knowledge District. Key elements of the winning design include a boardwalk that would provide information about the local habitat, a café, outdoor seating with a view of Providence’s waterfront, a cascading terrace and sundeck, sculpture and gardens.

“We are both delighted and humbled by the Competition Committee’s selection of our concept,” said Michael Guthrie, InFORM Studio. “It is a great privilege to serve the community of Providence considering the many outstanding designs submitted.”

inFORM Studio was among 11 finalists selected from 47 firms from Rhode Island and around the world for consideration by the Pedestrian Bridge Design Selection Committee. The Committee spent the entire month of November reviewing design proposals in a blind competition which included written comments from the public, who viewed the designs at Providence City Hall and online. “Public engagement has played a major role in the selection process and resulted in some of the proposed designs being viewed online more than 3,000 times,” said Mayor Cicilline. The Providence-based architectural design firm Studio Providence was the runner-up.

The new pedestrian bridge will be constructed by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation based on inFORM Studio’s design specifications. It will replace the I-195 bridge after it is dismantled as part of the highway relocation project.

Members of the Pedestrian Bridge Design Selection Committee included Jessie Shefrin, Rhode Island School of Design; Michael Lewis, Director, DOT; Robert McMahon, Providence Parks Superintendent; Thomas Deller, Director Planning and Development for the City of Providence; Michael McCormick, Brown University; Joseph DiBatista, private business representative; Michael Warner, VP Rhode Island Chapter of AIA; Ian Barnacle, President Fox Point Neighborhood Association; Arthur Salisbury, VP Jewelry District Association and Edward Sanderson, Executive Director, RI Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission.

More details/info as it becomes available.

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • Yes, the design process was accelerated in part to ensure that the work could fall within the calendar of the Iway project. Some funding depends on that. And the river situation is supposed to be resolved by the end of the project. If not a bridge, then a clear river with no obstructions.

  • Nice! I liked this one, and think of how easy it would be to have a hot dog cart and maybe a cupcake and coffee kiosk on appropriate days, without having to build the actual infrastructure. Jef–I think I found our next venture!

  • Jef, thanks for your insight here. Can you clarify – is the plan to build the cafe and related program now, but finish the bridge span at a later date?

  • I’ve sent some questions off to the Planning Department about the bridge plan.

  • While I don’t think that any of the design proposals were uniquely “Providence” in the least, it does my heart good to see that the chosen design was obviously the best one of the bunch.

  • Well, I’ve sent off some questions, haven’t got a reply, but I did just click “send.”

    The blockquoted text in the post is from a Press Release from the Mayor’s Office.

  • Can’t say im a fan. I was looking forward to a design that separates cyclists from pedestrians. This one does not and would make walking a pain. It’s alright and would be a nice addition, but cant say im enthused or anything.

  • I am still concerned about the proposed building on the western bank integrated into the proposal.

  • Not one of my favorites at all, I’m really surprised at the positive response. I still think it looks like a unfinished highway ramp. I’m disappointed in this choice.

  • The winner is not exactly iconic, but will be unusual and distinctive with the retail component. I question the lack of a defined pathway for bicycles. There’s the possibility of pedestrian/bicycle conflict, especially with two-way bike traffic.

  • It’s great and very exciting. I know that the design team mentioned in their proposal that the bridge construction could be phased, with the actual bridge built first and the restaurant program completed at a later date. I hope that funding can be found to build the whole scheme in one fell swoop, so we’re not left with an incomplete bridge.

  • I like the bridge as a destination, an interesting passageway.

    I also want a stage, a dance floor, opportunities, riverfront steak and squash and Block Island sword on public grills and plates on the grass, and lots of live local music. Not all at one end.

    It’s a public space: Experiences at the bridge, things not so much.

  • I would have like a cycle track tacked onto the north side below the pedestrian level, but I think cyclists will be just fine on this bridge. You’ll get the Woonerf effect – they will have to slow down a tad and weave their way through, but it’s not the end of the world. Anything less than a fully separated path on a different level might not really fit in with a fully pedestrian bridge. A painted lane would increase cyclists’ speeds over the bridge and impede access to the railings on one side, making hard for people to lean over the edge the way people like to do on bridges.

  • I don’t know what describes this undertaking better: travesty, or sham. No way will this thing be built for 2-4 million as is being reported by news outlets… how will this be phased? the bridge was just awarded to an all-knowing architect, surely finances must have been addressed, and as a taxpayer I DEMAND to know how much this will cost me, and when! will they build the bridge first with none of the amenities which are the reason it won, or will they build the amenities first without the bridge? (both are irrational and likely outcomes) Someone earlier asked this question but so far it has been ignored. So what’s the plan???

  • I wonder how Weaver The Taxpayer will feel when they have to spend $300+ million to replace the I95 viaduct by the mall.

  • This was the “kitchen sink” proposal and will probably be more elegant and iconic with strong budget constraints that require removal of extraneous ideas.

  • Cost was also my concern. The “bridge” is supposed to cost no more than the cost of removing the piers once the highway was down. The piers had to come down because of regulations (maybe FHA). Since there was already money in the IWAY project to do that they were going to shift that money to build a bridge instead of removing the piers.

    This means that unless there is additional funding available, the design we see now will most likely not be the design that gets built. Once we start cutting for reasons of budget all the nice things we see and like will probably be the first things to go. I have no problem with phasing the project but I would have liked to have seen just Phase 1, since that is probably the only thing we are going to see for quite a while.

  • Lets hope the additional two million can be found soon. It was my understanding the bridge has to be in place (or have a construction contract) before the end of the Iway project or the supports have to come down. They can’t sit there for years until the funding is found.

  • I got a response from Planning on some questions I had, here is their reply:

    When the competition began, the designers were given a budget of $4,000,000 to work with. The Rhode Island Department of Transportation is providing $2,000,000 for the pedestrian bridge. That $2,000,000 comes from the savings from what it would have cost RIDOT to demolish the existing granite piers of the old I-195 bridge. During the last round of federal TIGER grants, RIDOT applied for an additional $2,000,000 to fund the bridge. That request was not granted, but both the City and RIDOT will continue to pursue federal funding options as well as opportunities to partner with the private sector and local institutions to raise the additional funds required.

    RIDOT and the City are currently working with the design team to determine the exact cost for the bridge. Much of this depends on final material choices and possible phasing options, which we are also working to determine. We are fully committed to the original integrity of the design, and although we will likely be making some tweaks , what will be built in 2013 will be true to the original design proposed by inFORM studio and Buro Happold.

    As proposed, the bridge landings would impact the designs on either side of the park. As more detailed plans for both the bridge and parks emerge, the design teams will work together with RIDOT and the City to develop a cohesive design for the bridge landings and parks.

    It is also my understanding, that RIDOT Director Michael Lewis is very much committed to seeing this happen and will be working to ensure that the funding is found.

    The budget that the team proposed was $3.9 million.

    I am no budgeting expert, but before everyone cries, “how could that possibly be built for $3.9 million!?!?!” Let me remind you, that not having to build piers is huge. Were there not already piers in the river to support the structure, the budget would be much much bigger.

  • I would also speculate, that though the atmosphere in Washington will change come January, having an actual design of what we plan to build will help us to get federal funding. I would speculate that the chief reason we did not get TIGER money on the last go ’round for this is that we did not have a “shovel ready” plan.

  • Jeff, thanks for posting the response from the planning department, as well as being good at posting the facts about this project! There’s been so much kevetching about the design process, the cost, alleged misconduct from many fronts (Brussat in the Projo, comments here and on Projo, even supposedly progressive blogs like

    I’m very impressed that the city has gone through such lengths and obvious efforts to create an open, professional, and transparent competition (Brussat in particular complains that rules were broken by including Studio Providence in the 11 selected firms…but at least there was more than one local firm in the mix). On a whole, the submissions were of high quality, and the blind jury was appropriately large and represented plenty of the city’s intuitions and stakeholders.

    Public design processes work like this…a winner is chosen, fancy renderings are used to find funds, and the design is revised to keep it in line with that funding. Our job is to keep planning to its word that it will balance the cost, design, and practicality as it moves forward.

    I would imagine that if Buddy’s project to uncover the rivers, build Waterplace park, and the river walk were happening today, the same complaints would be aired on this and other online forums. Keep in mind how successful and well-enjoyed that project was and is!

  • Andrew, you don’t have to read everything you read. Just because David Brussat wrote it doesn’t mean it’s true…. just like all media people in this city I’m sure he has his affiliations that get veiled in his usual biases. I’m not trying to provoke anything, I’m just saying there has been a lot of spin everywhere you look.

    I myself was curious as to how this could be built for $3.9M. Using the most basic tools available to me online, I believe it can’t. From inForm’s plan image, I estimate they have 34,000 sf of built “stuff”… Working backward from $3.9M, this comes to $115/sf. Keep in mind they have bathrooms, kitchens that need to have sprinklers, commercial ovens, refrigerators, the whole bit.

    Now, with that in mind I googled for a benchmark figure for the price of a dull ordinary pedestrian bridge… there were many hits… I took the first one that seemed clear, and found this:

    At the bottom of page 2, it says this: Pedestrian Overpass with Handicap Ramps per Sq. Ft.: $245. Again, this is a dull ordinary concrete and metal bridge, probably with chain link fence sides. No nice finishes, no utilities or lighting of any kind besides big highway type lights. No fancy railings, foot pools, landscaping, seating, etc. No wood, just metal and concrete. And especially no enclosed space. No exhaust hoods, security system, none of the incredibly obvious stuff that even I can figure out after a half hour google hunt.

    Run the numbers yourself and come back here and tell me nothing looks fishy, or that someone behind the scenes isn’t pulling a fast one on the city. At best, InForm is guilty of bait and switch. I call BS, and in a big way. This isn’t even close, at least if I’m not mistaken.

  • First, I doubt the funds are going to pay for the commercial kitchen equipment for the cafe (exhaust hoods, security system, commercial ovens, etc). That would probably be a cost for whoever fills the space.

    As Jef stated above, the biggest cost to the project would have been the piers, which are already in place. I have a feeling that is not the case for your $245/sq ft overpass.

    Why is it so bad that the city wants to do something nice for us for a change?

  • I agree, it’s nice for the city to do something nice. Of course they don’t have to build the piers, or necessarily buy all of the kitchen equipment. But they have to provide heat, a/c, ventilation for the kitchen, insulation, etc, which no other project had… see my list above. $245 was only a baseline for a basic stripped down bridge. What inForm proposes is not a basic stripped down bridge. With all the wood and nice materials this project has, $245/ sq ft is incredibly naive even without piers or appliances. It’s one thing to be nice and another to be burned for being nice.

  • I’m curious what the construction costs really entail though. That cost implies building a pedestrian bridge across existing road, which involves some very expensive variable costs like detouring traffic and police etc.

    I have to assume that at best the $3.9 million does not include the building structures on the west bank, and a minimal build-out of the cafe (e.g. it will not have a kitchen). I also worry about the east bank pavilion getting lost to budget cuts as well as downgrading materials. but we’ll see.

  • My understanding, is anything on the riverbanks will be considered part of the parks and will come from that budget (I have not found out what the budget is for the parks or where that budget is coming from). The bridge budget consists of the bridge itself.

  • GCPVD posted this video – obviously THE RIVER FLOODS:
    or if that link doesn’t work:

    I’m not so sure that a cafe or fancy materials would hold up with all this flooding. The reason everyone likes this project has a lot to do with the cafe. The architect had better find a way to do the impossible… but from the video and first hand experiencing road closures due to river flooding in this spot… the prospects don’t look good. At least without a lawsuit and yearly reconstruction efforts. They better not go through with this project if they can’t build the cafe under it.

  • I’m pretty sure they just have to raise it up a couple feet and it won’t flood the cafe. While Waterplace Park floods, it goes right down to the water. I don’t think this bridge is going to be right on top of the water.

  • I don’t think they should fully build out the cafe.

    I envision whoever runs the cafe, already has a business in the city, Coffee Exchange, Tazza, Olga’s, Pastiche… The cafe doesn’t have ovens and such, they are supplied daily by the home office.

    Design the cafe space so that it can be loaded on a truck with 12 hours notice, chairs, tables, display cases, registers, glass walls, the whole thing, boxed up and put on a truck when the forecast is for a hurricane or 10 inches of rain over 2 days.

    Then *when* the river floods, it is just an empty shell, and a few days of mopping up and you bring everything back and you are good to go again.

  • The flood in the photo is a 100 year flood. The hurricane barrier was built to prevent the storm surge from coming over to down town like that.
    The flooded river in the video happens yearly predictably after a spring rain. It is due to run-off, and the hurricane barrier can’t help that.

  • Behind the beach dunes, most of Miami Beach is only 3 or 4 feet above sea level and like Providence can experience a storm serge now and then. When a storm threatens, steel barriers with rubber gaskets are bolted into preset anchors in the sidewalk in front of retail and hotel lobbies to protect property. The system is effective. Something similar could be designed for the pedestrian bridge café.

  • yep you could, for more money.

    Has anyone projected the annual revenues for a 500 sq ft cafe on a windswept river, accessed through a park, with a catchment area of the population between Sheldon and Benevolent who commute to the Jewelry district, in a flood plain? I think as taxpayers we should be interested as we’re being asked to invest in it.

    If this is the winner, so be it, but I’d really like to see the value engineered version, its projected revenue, and see if it captivates folks as effectively as this pimped out version.

  • Today the area has a low population and not enough to support much of anything, unless it becomes a destination in itself.

    The greatest appeal of the winning design is the proposed activity by the café. If the café is value engineered away, what would be left is a fairly mediocre design. There were other much more iconic designs that lost the competition. If that is the case, it would be an unfortunate lost opportunity for Providence, though the city would still have a pedestrian bridge.

    A worst scenario would be if the café were built and due to lack of success left empty.

  • @trucks: I would imagine there were would plenty of interest in a cafe at this location (particularly of the type that Jef described in a earlier comment), with two RISD buildings nearby, and hopefully the Brown U (or whoever) infill on the 195 land. Don’t forget about Waterfire, which could easily be extended downstream. There aren’t that many people lingering in Waterplace Park, afterall.

    Aren’t the grants and funding for this bridge largely federal? That means that each US taxpayer is kicking in, what like two pennies for this project? Time to call your cousin in Oklahoma and foment some taxpayer outrage!

  • @ Andrew- I’ve already beat this horse in the discussion prior to the winners announcement, so you’ll forgive me if I don’t go down that rabbit hole again. Suffice it to say, I personally think interest in this location is highly over imagined, and this is a bad investment our gov’t is making. But I will concede that until a retail expert is brought in to assess the situation (none was on the jury by my reckoning) it’ll just be us arguing over its potential with no real statistics either way.

    @ Peter- agreed I think the appeal of this was primarily the cafe (who’s prospective success or failure reasonable people can disagree about – which is why I’d like to see a real outside objective analysis), if that is VE’d out because it can’t support itself, than IMHO the whole thing needs some serious reconsideration (the design, the process, or the winner).

  • It is much more interesting to read the comments here when one knows which commenters are members of the public and which are members of a team that were not announced the winners of this design competition.

  • @Jef: Ohh! We should have a commenter outing.

    I graduated from the RISD architecture department and worked for Friedrich St. Florian (Studio Providence) for a month or so while in school, but had nothing to do with the bridge competition. Anyone else want to share?

  • I’m not going to out anyone or edit or remove any posts, but it would be nice to have a bit more transparency in the discussion.

    Oh, and I’m not meaning to imply that everyone who is not in favor of this proposal is simply a sore loser, or that people who may be sore losers don’t have valid points.

  • @jef…..that is an interesting spot to be in and I’m equally curious but I wouldn’t want to ask you to jeopardize your ethics as moderator or vigor of discussion by pushing people to talk that openly about their interests. After all the design teams are likely the ones to have given this opportunity/problem the most thought and can reflect critically the best on other schemes. If they don’t wanna hurt their own reputations by doing so publicly that is their Internet perogative and I respect that.

    That said, I will also share my credentials. The major one is that I spent 7 years commuting by foot or bike from the east side to my office in the Jewelry District. So I feel like I have a pretty good handle on how freaking cold that river crossing can be, and what kind of numbers make that trek.

    I like Andrew went to RISD and am friendly with studio providence but have never worked in their firm, had no part in their bridge design, and have no financial interests in any design/construction regardless of who wins. That being said, I think they have the most appropriate solution given my experience with this crossing. That maybe because I’m biased, but I reread my posts and have really only challenged 10 on economic issues relating to its costs and supposed cafe traffic (which I feel very comfortable talking about) otherwise i like it fine and would even be happy to tell studio providence the same.

    But can we put this outing talk down now? I am interested to hear the criticism of the folks on the inside, and don’t want their conceivably valid points undermined because we believe they are speaking only from self interest. If a criticism has merit I don’t really care what the motivation for raising it was.

  • Were there runners-up in the competition or just the announcement of the winning entry? Was there a vote and if there was what were the percentages for winners and losers?

  • Maybe the end game on this thing is that the Mayor wanted to pick the Studio Providence submission (the runner up) but couldn’t because of a perception that the process was flawed (even though picking a local firm would have placated the drunken Projo comments who have taken a break from complaining about illegal immigrants to complain about out-of-towners designing bridges built with “their” tax money). Once they examine the cost of the chosen design and everyone “discovers” that it is too expensive, they have no choice but to build Studio Providence’s design.

    It’s cynical I know, but I’m calling it now…if it happens, I win the pool!

  • Frankly, if you really want to make the numbers work, don’t build a cafe, build a bar. Something between Tini and The Salon would work there. Just a small, simple place with an awesome view. THAT’s a destination., and not just for locals, it would itself be a reason for folks to be in that neighborhood. You could very easily have it open earlier with a daytime cafe focus, which is likely to have a smaller reliable base for clientele, but as an afterwork spot, I guarantee that place would never be empty.

  • just to clear up a few tidbits of information:

    for starters, this is the most accurate article put together to date and cites bonnie nickerson with cost.,54366

    these are several items i am aware of that will hopefully help this group out.

    1. the size of the proposed bridge from abutment to abutment is close to 24,000sf…it can be calculated
    2. the post design proposed estimate by the design team was not $3.9 million, bonnie nickerson stated her own number. I believe it to be closer to the $5 million number mentioned in the article where she was cited, as designed, but there are likely modifcations that could be made to reduce the cost and maintain the design integrity. In reality, it is a $5 million bridge as designed. Most teams intended to design to a $4 million budget based on the criteria given.
    3. i would be interested to know what the estimate for studio providence scheme would be. given the large canopy structures, long piers, and overall height, it would be hard pressed to be less expensive than the team 10 scheme. IMHO, it would cost more. anyone willing to volunteer their estimate? i believe it was submitted as well after the winning entry was selected
    4. judging from renderings, the height of the finish floor of the cafe is well above the height of the granite piers….that would put it above the flood line and equal to many buildings in the city. it would still be possible to flood but as likely as many other structures in the city.
    5. Andrew gave a very good description of the design process. he is correct. it was an excellent and very fair design process and kept as anynomous as possible. Two finalists were in fact selected and Studio Providence was the runner-up. the final design was selected anonymously for many reasons that Cicilline described. primary considerations were connections to the city as a whole, integration into parks, dynamic programming spaces, flexible programming spaces and the inclusion of the cafe which is flexible as well. Aesthetic reasons were given as well but obviously those are useless to debate here as everyone has a differing opinion.
    6. the cafe is not intended for heavy use that would require ovens etc. I would imagine partnership opportunities that were mentioned would apply here. Designers seemed to consider this as a concept based on public input that was given out in design criteria manual.

  • Brown Daily Herald story on the pedestrian bridge. Includes this about possible funding, which is in line with what I have heard been said:

    Though RIDOT applied for a federal grant to make up the $2 million difference, the state did not receive the funding. [Bonnie] Nickerson [director of long-range planning for the Department of Planning and Development] said the city is working with RIDOT to finalize ways to raise that revenue, which may include public-private partnerships with other businesses and institutions. [Brown] University is one potential fundraising partner, [s]he said.

    [Mike] McCormick [Brown assistant vice president of planning, design and construction] said the University has had “no specific discussions” about a possible partnership with the city or state on building the bridge, but added that it “clearly (has) an interest in the area and making sure the bridge is successful.”

Providence, RI
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