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6 Amazing Elevated Gardens

by Rick Anderson

In urban centers around the world, the loss of public green space to private development has prompted innovative designers to make greenways out of no ways. Most famously, decommissioned transit lines are repurposed as promenades; notable examples include Manhattan’s High Line (which took over an elevated spur abandoned by the New York Central Railroad) and its predecessor, Paris’s Promenade Plantée (a 4.5-kilometer span that uses a rail line taken out of service in 1969).

We’re now seeing a surge in landscaped pedestrian bridges, many of them designed as such from the beginning. Not only does starting from scratch free architects from the rigid linearity of tracks, but it also allows them to introduce new social connections, breathing room, and beauty into otherwise congested communities.

Perhaps the earliest bridge conversion in the U.S. was the 1928 Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. When a concrete trolley bridge over the Deerfield River fell out of use after its owners went bankrupt, a local resident suggested to the town that the weedy relic be replanted. The bridge has remained open almost continuously since, aside from restoration work in the early 1980s, during which every plant, tree, and shrub was removed and cared for in private gardens nearby.

In Washington, D.C., the Anacostia and Capitol Hill neighborhoods will be joined by a bridge park set to open in 2018. In a collaborative design from OMA, Rem Koolhaas’s architectural firm, and the Olin landscape design studio, the city’s first elevated park will re-deck and expand on the existing 11th Street Bridge. Plans include performance spaces, waterfalls, hammocks, gardens, and a café.

The Hofbogen project in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, will feature commercial space and an elevated park, using an old rail line as its base. Conceived by Doepel Strijkers, a firm that specializes in sustainable design and climate issues, the park will connect Rotterdam Airport and developments around it to the city district heating network. The industrial waste heat being channeled will warm the prewar buildings along the park’s trajectory, radically reducing their CO2 footprints.

In Tokyo, the Meguro Sky Garden that opened in 2013 is not a bridge in the conventional sense, although it covers the intersection of two major expressways. The roof garden park measures 75,000 square feet, and it has a fairly steep slope. At its highest elevation, the park offers a clear view of Mt. Fuji.

London’s Garden Bridge, an entirely new construction, is set to open in 2018. The heavily landscaped promenade and pedestrian crossing will span the River Thames, linking the South Bank to the Temple station area. The bridge’s fluid, organic profile is the work of Heatherwick Studio, to be realized by Arup engineering. Its landscape plan is from the award-winning Dan Pearson: His planting scheme aims to provide year-round color and interest, and his trees and shrubs will be multistemmed varieties, whose lower centers of gravity are more suited to the windy conditions of the bridge environment.

Garden bridges aren’t just for people, as seen here in a wildlife overpass located in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. The passes use vegetation (and sometimes litter) to attract animals whose hunting and grazing paths have been interrupted by roads. Populations served include everything from grizzly bears and elk to moose and wolves; on Australia’s Christmas Island, there’s a special overpass designed for migrating red crabs.

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