Transforming the Old Bay Bridge Into a Park for Adventure Tourists

Now that the new Bay Bridge is here, what to do with the old one...? Is the slow and expensive demolition of the iconic structure really the best or even most cost-effective answer? A handful of local proposals have emerged, both earnest and speculative, hoping to find perhaps at least some useful future for the now obsolete mega-span, currently just a ruin strung uselessly through the air.

The Bridge should be broken up and incorporated into local housing, some say; others, like architects Ron Rael and Virginia San Fratello, think the Bridge should instead be seismically stabilized, retrofit with clusters of smaller buildings, and converted into a public park.

Transforming the Old Bay Bridge Into a Park for Adventure Tourists

Transforming the Old Bay Bridge Into a Park for Adventure Tourists

Transforming the Old Bay Bridge Into a Park for Adventure Tourists

Indeed, several years ago, Rael San Fratello, as their office is called, released a series of images intended not as actual design proposals for the future of the Bay Bridge, but as somewhat tongue-in-cheek conversation starters: they depicted the Bridge refit with climbing walls, bike paths, outdoor cinemas, hotel rooms, and more, with single pedestrians, groups, and families all milling about on the broad and picturesque platforms over the Bay, drinking wine, listening to music, and throwing frisbees. (Check out this PDF for more).

It was an architectural vision like something out of William Gibson's novel Virtual Light—updated with copious middle class comforts—where the Bay Bridge, Stephenson writes, has become a kind of temporary autonomous zone in the sky, elevated outside the world and in between political jurisdictions.

But reusing the Bridge—or, rather, exactly how this reuse should occur—has been a hot topic for years; at the time of Rael San Fratello's first images, a parallel, unconnected design studio was also being taught at UC Berkeley's architecture school by Fred Schwartz and Marc L'Italien, exploring the exact same idea. Could—or even should—architects come up with a convincing alternative future for the famous Bridge? Is simply removing it without considering other options a wasted opportunity?

Today, all three of those players—Rael San Fratello, Fred Schwartz, and Marc L'Italien—have teamed up to form a local design advocacy group called reThink Bay Bridge, offering a whole new set of visual provocations.

Architect Ron Rael took some time earlier today to talk to Gizmodo about the work, explaining the group's broader intention to move "beyond thinking about the Bay Bridge as only public infrastructure, to thinking about it as a truly public space, a shared resource for the whole Bay Area." The now-obsolete Bridge, he added, "is a true space, with a recognizable character for each side of the span. You know where you were; it is more like a building suspended above the Bay."

Transforming the Old Bay Bridge Into a Park for Adventure Tourists

The currently planned demolition, he warned, would simply "obliterate it from public consciousness, erase it from the memory of the city, and lose this public resource that could still be adapted for other things."

Although the images seen here are deliberately presented as Instragrams to add to their status simply as illustrations, not architectural plans—to the extent of being described by Rael as "preposterous"—they are also meant to show the possibility of an alternative Bay Area, one in which the Bridge, stabilized and made safe for outdoor enthusiasts, has become almost like an adventurous Tintern Abbey for the region, a bizarre new linear park across the Bay.

Transforming the Old Bay Bridge Into a Park for Adventure Tourists

It would be a decaying—Rael preferred the word "entropic"—monument to the imaginative power of public infrastructure, a shared architectural space in which we "let nature be the catalyst," Rael suggests. We let the spectacle of new landscapes take shape on broad platforms once weighed down by the passage of 300,000 vehicles each day.

Transforming the Old Bay Bridge Into a Park for Adventure Tourists

Transforming the Old Bay Bridge Into a Park for Adventure Tourists

Transforming the Old Bay Bridge Into a Park for Adventure Tourists

Rael actually laughed about a small river shown flowing down the middle of the Bridge and he emphasized again that these are not real designs.

However, he added, the group is serious about its broader mandate: the Bridge really should be rethought, reconsidered, and potentially kept around for its as-yet-undiscovered use-value. reThink Bay Bridge will try to drive momentum for saving these future ruins in the months to come, before the Bridge is lost forever.

Transforming the Old Bay Bridge Into a Park for Adventure Tourists

All images courtesy of Rael San Fratello/reThink Bay Bridge.