Greater City Providence

“Reevaluating” the pedestrian bridge

Update: The Planning Department has clarified for me what went down.

When the Mayor was elected, some people reached out to him to allege that the competition process was unfair, and that Team 3 should have won. The Mayor reviewed the process and determined that it was fair. When asked to re-open the design process, the Mayor said, “no.” Contrary to the consternations of some, Team 10 remains the winning team and the Planning Department will work with the team to finalize the design.

You may remember there was a competition to choose the design for the proposed pedestrian bridge over the Providence River. Well, I’ve heard rumblings that some on the design committee were not happy with the winner that that committee was tasked with choosing. And today the Brown Daily Herald reports this:

Now, Mayor Angel Taveras is reevaluating the decision between the competition’s two close finalists. “The new mayor wants to reexamine that and make sure it’s the right decision,” [Michael] McCormick [Brown University assistant vice president for planning, design and construction] said.

So, I’m not even going to get into the ridiculousness of going through the theatre of having a design competition, picking a distinguished judging panel, inviting a winner here and telling them they have the commission, only to wait for an election and ask the new mayor to ‘reevaluate’ that decsion. I mean good luck getting any remotely qualified candidates next time you hold a ‘design competition’ (OK, so I’m getting into it a little bit).

As of yet, I don’t think the public has been invited into this ‘reevaluation’ so, let’s have it out here. What say you?

Team 10, the chosen winning design inFORM studio/Buro Happold (visit Flickr to see their full proposal):


Team 3 by Studio Providence, the runner up (visit Flickr to see their full proposal):

Reevaluating the Pedestrian Bridge, what do you think?

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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.


  • I like 10 if it gets built, but as I mentioned in the original discussions, I have a lot of doubt that they will be able to build it without cutting corners and IMO the design is attractive only if everything is “in.” If elements are removed for cost savings it becomes substantially less attractive.

  • Is this entirely pandering to give a Providence group the contract and “keep the money in state” (or in city even)?

  • I can only imagine that the current financial nightmare is forcing a reevaluation of everything currently on the table or that the cost of this project is raising some eyebrows.

    That said, I vastly prefer the Team 10 to Team 3 on every level. I also second Brick’s points that it only works as designed. Strip a little here and there, and it’s not nearly as appealing. This is a project whose details are what’s appealing.

  • I find it completely unacceptable to hold a public competition judged by a panel of experts, award a commission, and then reevaluate that decision behind closed doors. I’ve contacted the Mayor’s Office to voice my strong opposition, citing this story and this poll, and I hope others will do the same.

  • I can see reevaluating the project based on finances, but that would be the only reason to reevaluate it. Although, what if there was something behind closed doors that happened before Team Angel got on the scene? Would that be reason to evaluate it? It is a sticky wicket, to be sure.

  • Honestly while I like the 10 design better than 3, I have always thought is is too expensive and elaborate for the criteria. Could it be revised and simplified to work within the budget, yes, but I think it will be drastically different, therefore I don’t like either.

  • This “reevaluating” is Bush League.

    I guess a deal is not a Done Deal unless its a “Done Deal.”

    10 was one of my favorites. Now I am wanting to sit in the shade in #3 but that is not a good enough reason to undo the results of the competition.

    “Can’t – Do” is the new Spirit of America.

  • I have updated the original post with this:

    Update: The Planning Department has clarified for me what went down.

    When the Mayor was elected, some people reached out to him to allege that the competition process was unfair, and that Team 3 should have won. The Mayor reviewed the process and determined that it was fair. When asked to re-open the design process, the Mayor said, “no.” Contrary to the consternations of some, Team 10 remains the winning team and the Planning Department will work with the team to finalize the design.

  • My gut tells me David Brussat must be behind this new, rather, recast doubt. David, you lost, get over it.

    The people want something new and inspiring! When the Bank of America Building (“Superman Building”) was built downtown in 1927, it was new and inspiring. It was modern and a big!

    Someone please keep the window open, we need some fresh air in this place.
    David Brussat: Fishy foot-bridge contest in Providence
    01:00 AM EST on Thursday, November 11, 2010
    David Brussat: Secret design for a Providence bridge
    08:49 AM EDT on Thursday, July 29, 2010

  • I doubt David Brussat had anything to do with the after-the-fact haranguing of the new Mayor over the process. The runner-up, Team 3, is the one Brussat was most railing against ahead of the announcement.

    I have not talked to David, but I would assume that he is not exactly in love with the final winner, Team 10. It is certainly quite modern at first blush. But it does have some elements that seem to reflect back to Waterplace, and it does not have any superfluous vertical elements that would interfere with views of the historic buildings on the riverbank or block the view from the Crawford Bridge down to the Point Street bridge and vice versa.

  • If anything, this debacle will vindicate Mr. Brussat’s position that the competition was fixed from the get-go, that they jury always favored the Studio Providence’s entry (because the judging wasn’t truly blind), and that Ciciline was forced to choose #10 because of his “journalistic” expose’.

  • much prefer inform design/buro happold. sure hope the mayor doesnt give into studio providence’s back room deal making to weasel their way in.

  • I agree with a lot of the comments about design #10 from the start – it’s a great, contemporary, useful, creative design that would be an asset to the city. However, there is NO WAY that it could be built as designed for the established budget. It would require a lot of private funding, or grants, or creative use of federal funding. For the most part, none of the designs could be built for the realistic budget (originally $2 million, or the cost of removing the piers and footings, but I think expanded to $4 million for the competition – which itself is not fair to the designers originally under contract).
    The point of designing something to a budget, is so that the project actually gets built as intended. I hope that happens in this case…

  • Eye catching headline, but little new information in this PBN article (behind their paywall):

    Cheaper pedestrian bridge eyed

    The Planning Department has said all along that inFORM’s design would have to be brought into the $4 million target. The only somewhat new information is that the bridge timeline may slip from a 2013 completion. Though the idea of building the bridge in phases has been part of the plan since the winning concept was announced as well.

  • I just heard that a construction management company did a preliminary cost estimate of Team 10 design that was $12-$17 million. Who wouldn’t like a scheme that that is 3x-4x budget BEFORE it even begins construction … good choice, Mayor C. …

    Will someone just build a simple, elegantly detailed, footbridge that costs maybe $3 million, is fully accessible (which Team 10 is not), and leave behind the architecture patronage egos that are inflating the design into a costly, bloated beast ?

  • And there’s this, from two members of Studio Providence:

    “Many people felt stung by the end game of the process for the Providence River Pedestrian Bridge competition. Having nowhere to turn, they came to us. We were told stories from other designers, businessmen, politicians, prominent figures in the community and other individuals who share a love and concern for Providence. This award doesn’t change the process or what will be built on the river. But it confirms what we [and others] think would be best for Providence.”


  • It does stink. Though I think the inside story has likely more to do about how that team, and even bill Warner were abused by the process – as both provided designs to the city at city’s request on their own nickel and had a small semi-public airing. Sadly Brussat decided to take his prior knowledge of these two revealed then and in the middle of the subsequent competition reveal them making both politically untouchable by the mayor.

    It stinks. But not in the way I think you mean it. These people are being accused here of skullduggery, when all they did was invest their time and effort into making something at the city’s request, and did a nice job, only to have it be made politically problematic to choose by the worst architecture critic in the whole world.

    If I were them (team 3) i don’t think I’d even want the commission, having been so poorly used by the whole process. And if anyone thinks they’re behind this

  • “Specific to our projects, we arrive at each through a search for something essential, which for us is spatial in nature, a way of making relations cohere in a fundamental way.”

    That’s another quote from their article, does that really sound like an adroit political operator who knows how to maneuver through the public realm and latch onto government work? If so why aren’t they getting the contracts for the schools, the police sub-stations, or the libraries? Those guys are artists to the core.

    It stinks that the soul of the winner is being value engineered out. It stinks team 3 was sabotaged, and subtly accusing them here of wrongdoing when all they did was win, and react to an award is just adding to the insult.

  • To be clear, Trunks, I’m not trying to accuse Team 3 (members of which I have studied with, worked with, and been employed by) of shenanigans, overt or not. I probably should have edited the quote a bit to this:

    “We were told stories from other designers, businessmen, politicians, prominent figures in the community and other individuals who share a love and concern for Providence.”

    This seems to confirm that at least from Team 3’s perspective (or what their connections were telling them) that something fishy was going on. Certainly Brussat was a catalyst, but I’m not convinced that he was the only thing that fouled up the works…just the most prominent.

  • The fact that a non-governmental group got together and started off with people they know working on designs for a bridge is an example of when it is problematic that we are such a small state/town. It was a committee of “who you know.”

    Rightly, the City stepped in, in part because the ad-hoc committee found itself deadlocked (and also because the City had to become involved at some point), and created a design contest.

    Somehow, that contest ended up with 11 finalists, odd number that, 11. Then it ended up with a winner and one runner up (or as quoted in some places, two winners), just one runner up, not two. Why?

    Aspersions need not be cast on Team 3, but it is hard to argue with the assertion that the design competition was run less than fairly, Brussat outing a team in which the finalists were supposed to be blind did not help, though I have no doubt everyone knew who Team 3 was, small town/state…

    Now, undoubtedly, people who supported Team 3 are on the 195 Commission’s case about it, making arguments about the winning team’s design being too expensive and value engineered I’m sure. More examples of “who you know” at work.

    The end result, if the winning design is not built, is further proof that Providence cannot get things done outside of back channels and when next we have a high profile competition to design something this will be part of the consideration of the designers who consider submitting.

  • I think I called it on a previous post that Team 10’s design would prove too expensive, so Team 3’s design would win by default. This would side-swipe the appearance of “playing favorites” exposed by Brussat, while ensuring a result that everyone wanted in the first place.

    It is a crying shame that we can’t have a blind, fair national architectural competition. Perhaps the governor should appoint a commission to study the problem?

  • @Andrew, thanks and agreed. Sometimes I get a little testy that late at night and read things the wrong way.

    @Jef, you’re right it was run badly. But it’s an absurd world where a team that has never worked for city or state government is accused/tarnished of being in the know after they lost a competition. Whether that’s Brussat or anyone, these are good peoples’ reputations.

    As a Providence resident, my reaction to the news remains it is a shame that the winning entry (which I liked fine along design lines) has had its much touted cafe value engineered out, and it is delayed. It’d be great if it was possible to discuss that on its merits alone.

  • Trunks, no problem…I wasn’t being very clear.

    I thought one of the strengths of Team 10’s scheme is that it could be phased: first the span and the lower platform, then fitting out the cafe, then the bank-side improvements. It seems premature to “value engineer” anything out of the the design, instead planners should be smarter about the phasing and innovative in future fundraising.

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