Bridge the gap: Houston’s Rosemont Bridge
It’s no secret that Houston is hot. While most people enjoy being outdoors, there is a very small minority of folks here that venture out during the summer heat. While I did brave the outdoors during the sweltering summer, I avoided long walks and the bayou in general. Everyone knows that two things come from the bayou: mosquitoes and sweat. In fact, most of my ‘outdoor time’ was spent walking to our mailbox and grumbling all the way back about how hot it was. Long story short, I intended to cover the construction and dedication of the new Rosemont bridge, but for lack of better excuses, it was just too hot.
Now that it is a bit cooler – ehem, 90 degrees – I mustered the courage to brave the elements and document the new Rosemont bridge that connects the south bank of Buffalo Bayou to both the north bank and north side of Memorial Drive. Previously, any pedestrians or cyclists trying to access the bayou from the north side of Memorial Drive had to shimmy down the sidewalks of the Montrose Blvd vehicle bridge (see above image). During said shimmying, they had to hope and pray they didn’t encounter a mom with a double-wide stroller that would force them off the three foot patch of sidewalk and into oncoming traffic careening towards them at breakneck speeds (it is Houston, after all). I’m lucky in that I approach Buffalo Bayou from the south, and much further to the west. While I was never in need of access to the north side, now that it is available, I’m considering a leisure trip to “the other side”…once it’s much cooler, of course.
Before my excursion to the new bridge, I did a bit of digging to see how the project came into existence. As it turns out, the bridge was two years in the making, commissioned by the Houston Arts Alliance. Originally, it was named ‘Tolerance’ bridge, but we don’t like that here, so it got a new name: Rosemont. Honestly, I don’t think either name really fits quite right. Perhaps something more descriptive like, “Buffalo Bayou Pedestrian Bridge” would work, or a more whimsical “Wishbone” would suffice. I’d be equally as happy with “AAA” (Acute Angle Awareness), or the more obvious “Don’t get hit by cars Bridge” (only cyclists). In any case, they didn’t ask me, so we’re stuck with Rosemont until some point in the not-too-distant future when someone decides that preventing the name “Tolerance” was rather intolerant of us, and changes the name to “Tolerating Intolerance” or something of the like.
As for the bridge itself, the original design was much different than what you see in the photo gallery. The first design called for a metal bridge that appeared to be impassable (because that will encourage people to use it?). The Houston Chronicle stated that the design was “…intended to celebrate Houston’s cultural diversity and the cosmopolitan sensibility and mutual respect shared by its residents.” Uh-huh. Maybe someone can explain the intricacies of how that statement and this rendering go together:
While I do enjoy how the twisty-bridge frames the downtown skyline, I don’t see it as really making a strong connection to the idea of tolerance – not that it matters now that the bridge is called “Rosemont”. Fortunately for everyone involved, a simpler design by German arts collaborative Elmgreen & Dragset and Houston-based SWA Group was implemented. The original intent of Mica Mosbacher, the philanthropist who envisioned the project, was to create a public art project that promoted tolerance. While the bridge itself is aesthetically pleasing, the real art that does relate to tolerance sits at the south bank: The Sentinels.
Designed by Barcelona artist Jaume Plensa, the seven metal sculptures titled Tolerance kneel patiently and overlook a vast empty lot across Allen Parkway to the south. The empty lot these sentinels face is owned by the Aga Khan Foundation which has plans to build a new Ismaili Center there. Fittingly – or ironically, depending on your perspective – these Sentinels face away from the bridge once known as tolerance, and towards the unknown future across an equally treacherous roadway that lacks sufficient pedestrian infrastructure. Go figure. The sculptures are quite intriguing, as light dances through the voids and creates interesting shadows on the ground beyond. The transparency is both beautiful and busy; foreground and background blend together, creating a metaphor for the way our cultures disappear into one another at a distance and yet stand out singularly when encountered at close range. (How’s that for interpretation?)
The bridge(s) consist of rusted trusses set on sharp concrete piers. A concrete topping sits above the truss decking, and guard rails are made of horizontal metal tubes of varying thickness. I wish there had been an additional connection from the north side of Memorial drive to the north bank of the bayou, so as to prevent the inevitably awkward collisions that will occur at the acute angle of death. However, I’m sure that would have been a lot more money, so I’ll just be sure to watch out for cyclists. I’ll take them over a car any day. The only concerning part to me is the occupancy label (or perhaps warning?):
The problem I see here is enforcement. Given that the 4th of July fireworks display is sort of a big deal around here, and also given that the fireworks are set off near downtown…how does one ensure that the bridge isn’t overloaded during the festivities as onlookers pile onto the bridge for the best view in town? Will there be a one-in, one-out policy with a bridge bouncer?
In any case, I’m glad that this bridge is finished and that I finally got a chance to check it out. It was all worth it for this:
Written by: Brinn Miracle