By Michael A. Wiseman
The Creative Corridors Coalition was formed in 2007 with one important mandate: help transform the proposed North Carolina Department of Transportation Business 40 Project into a visually stunning showcase for life in Winston-Salem. While NC DOT made plans to replace 11 aging bridges leading into downtown, the Creative Corridors Coalition worked closely with the City of Winston-Salem, Forsyth County, and NC DOT to make sure those bridges would double as a dynamic entrance into the heart of the city.
When Creative Corridors unveiled their designs on Monday, it was immediately clear they had achieved their goal.
“Exciting and inspiring” were two key words that Lee French, the Creative Corridors Coalition Board of Directors chairman, used to describe the project. He spoke about how the designs were both practical in that they could be implemented in and constructed in a way that fits the fundraising goals of CCC, and altruistic in the way they would bring people together.
“It’s about truly connecting or reconnecting our cities in ways that haven’t been possible since the 1960’s,” said French.
The mantra driving Creative Corridors has been GAIN – Green, Artful, Iconic, and Network. Essentially, bringing the city together around purposeful structures that look beautiful. The coalition wants to attract workforce, tourism, and economic development with these structures, and let Winston-Salem serve as a driveway for the rest of the state – a state that includes diverse people and world-class education institutions.
To help, the coalition recruited three key designers: award-winning architect Donald MacDonald, noted public artist Larry Kirkland, and North Carolina native Walter Hood.
MacDonald is famous for designing some of the nation’s most notable bridges – including the San Francisco-Oakland Bay bridge and the retrofit of the Golden Gate Bridge. He has over 40 years of architecture experience, and extensive knowledge of government procedures, public review process, and public consultation requirements.
During the conference on Monday, MacDonald spoke briefly about how his work on the Cooper River Bridge in Charleston, South Carolina, brought elements of the community together, and how his work on Tilkum Crossing in Portland, Oregon showed him how important community participation is. In Oregon, they had over 15 public meetings about the bridge.
MacDonald displayed his grand vision for Winston-Salem: Twin Arches as the Salem Creek Connector (a new planned interchange at US 52 and Research Parkway) that he thinks will “make a statement” as you drive through town. The arches, inspired by those commonly seen in the Winston-Salem Moravian community, cross to represent the joining of a community.
MacDonald has also been hard at work on the Green Street Pedestrian Bridge, which is a walkway over Business 40 that will connect the West Salem neighborhood with BB&T Ballpark and the upcoming development in that area. Not only does the planned bridge have an economic purpose, but it was inspired by oak trees in the area. MacDonald cited specifically how the trees have a “layered” look when they’re bare in the winter – the same layered look that arches on the side of the Green Street bridge will have.
Larry Kirkland is known for public arts projects. He’s touched installations everywhere from the American Red Cross Headquarters to New York’s Penn Station.
Kirkland started by talking a lot about brick – how the Coalition wanted barrier walls throughout the corridor to look unique and not be concrete. It’s been a sticking point up until now with the state, and one that has seemingly yet to be resolved. While it sounded like the plan moving forward was to use concrete, a passing remark was made about the brick that current lines construction on 52, with the suggestion being that brick barrier walls are still a possibility. It’s unclear what other options exist to help the barrier wall stand out.
Kirkland’s focus was the new Peters Creek Parkway Bridge. Federal mandate required a soundwall be placed atop the bridge itself, so he came up with a creative solution: turn the sides of the walkway into 15 ft. tall glass panes, place four large sculptures on the corners of the bridge, and incorporate community art on both the glass panes and the sound barrier that starts where the glass walkway ends. It’s a design that, much like the Green Street Pedestrian Arches, is rooted in Winston-Salem’s rich Moravian heritage.
A local reporter asked Kirkland about the choice in glass and it’s durability for the Peters Creek bridge, which he addressed by pointing out how other options (such as chain fence) would have worked against the aesthetic Creative Corridors is striving for.
Larry Kirkland has also been instrumental in outlining the Visionary Master Plan and Design Guidelines that have driven the Creative Corridors project as a whole. His artistic influence has touched much of the overall project.
More than just being a North Carolina native, Walter Hood has won numerous design awards, including most recently the Cooper-Hewitt Design Award for Landscape Design. He’s completed projects everywhere from Oakland, California, to Atlanta, Georgia, where he worked on the Center for Civil and Human Rights.
Hood’s work on the Strollway Pedestrian Bridge in Winston-Salem was sparked from an essential question – “how can a strollway create a bridge?” He envisions it as walking through a strollway when, suddenly, you find yourself on the middle of I-40. It’s designed as a natural looking park that literally goes over the interstate. Most interesting, the greenery along the bridge will be asymmetrical, which is to help create visual interest as a person walks into the forest. It will look nothing like a bridge despite hovering above a busy highway.
After the artist presentations concluded, Redge Hanes spoke about why funding this project was so important. “These bridges are going to built. To have them simply be utilitarian structures says a lot about this city, it’s inspirations.”
He said that every great city has a defining aesthetic, and since Winston-Salem defines itself as a place of “imagination, innovation, arts,” it was important that these new structures represented that ideal.
Hanes concluded by discussing how you only have one opportunity to make a first impression on visitors. With the Creative Corridor, he hopes that Winston-Salem’s vision is clear – that those visitors see how the city has one, singular aspiration.
That is, simply, “To be the very best.”