30 September 2012

A Bridge Too Tall

Remember the fights over the Bay Bridge East Span's design; back in the 1990s. The main issues were architectural design, location of the bridge and cost.  Our "Golden" cousin, Istanbul, has a controversy on its hands where a fight is brewing over a proposed bridge* with bigger issues: a subway (metro) bridge that will either end the vice grip of traffic gridlock – or destroy the very cultural, historic, and architectural essence of this great historical and economically vibrant city. It's the age old debate between a city's aesthetics and cultural heritage compared with its practical side of being an economic machine and moving forward.
* The Golden Horn Metro Bridge was completed in 2014

Model of proposed Haliç Metro Bridge (Golden Horn Metro Bridge). Image: City of Istanbul
Resadiye Avenue with typical Istanbul traffic. Image: Brian Stokle/Urban Life Signs
Simply put, the bridge is desperately needed to complete a metro connection from the north to the south.  With Istanbul's dramatic hills and topography, much like San Francisco, the connection over the Golden Horn needs to be a bridge to ensure stations under the hills are not too deep; plus bridges are cheaper to build than tunnels.

The conflict isn't so much about the need for a bridge, but where the bridge goes on the Golden Horn, and the height of the bridge towers. The cable-stay bridge towers will go high enough to block or distract views of the Süleymaniye Mosque, one of the most significant in Istanbul. In addition, the bridge will essentially go right towards the mosque, meaning that views from the mosque will be dominated by the bridge. As a comparison, imagine the San Francisco Bay Bridge going straight to Coit Tower, or a bridge from Manhattan to New Jersey passing a few hundred feet from the Statue of Liberty.

Sulimaniye Mosque

Image Courtesy Istanbul SOS
Image Courtesy Turkey.com
There is no perfect solution to the situation. The architectural significance of the mosque is tremendous, as is the general view of the historic city from the Golden Horn. The bridge could have been built as a simple pontoon style bridge with no towers, which is what Istanbul SOS and other historic and architecture groups are advocating. According to Today's Zaman, UNESCO*, part of the UN and responsible for the preservation of world artifacts of universal value to mankind, threatened to delete İstanbul from its list of World Heritage Sites over the bridge, which it claims will destroy the view of mosques like the Süleymaniye on the historical peninsula. A compromise to lower the bridge towers from 82m to 64m seems to have assuaged UNESCO. In the end, the designers of the bridge are likely trying to build a new and attractive bridge that will add to the skyline, not lock the city in historic amber. The bridge will have yellow towers, and even a station in the middle of it. For all we know, it will be a beautiful modern addition to the city.

With that said, we grudgingly advocate the bridges construction. Unfortunately, if the bridge design falls short of gracefulness, and integration into the area of the Golden Horn, it's unlikely a "fix" could be made to make the bridge more attractive. Only time will tell if the bridge blends in well and is accepted by Istanbulites.