The dark caverns created by freeway overpasses are some of the unfriendliest parts of our cities. A 16-foot chandelier has been approved by Vancouver’s city council to illuminate one such forgotten passageway. And it’s kinda brilliant.
Local artist Rodney Graham conceived the piece for the Granville Street Bridge, and it’s being paid for by a developer building condos nearby (designed by Danish design superstar Bjarke Ingels). The sculpture is a replica of an 18th-century design, but instead of shards of crystal precariously dangling from a vibrating highway overpass, the glittering chandelier will be made from a clear polymer with LEDs inside, and will rotate slowly throughout the day.
Although it makes sense that the condo developer wants to improve access to its buildings by making walking from one side of the freeway to the other into a more pleasant experience, this bizarre Vancouver-by-way-of-Vegas attraction is being heralded by some as tone-deaf. Especially when such freeway overpasses are home to members of the city’s homeless population—these are actual living rooms—this fancy trapping of elitist society doesn’t hit exactly the right note for some, who say the almost $900,000 would be better spent cleaning up the space itself.
There’s a freeway underpass near my house which I often walk out of my way to avoid because it’s so dark and loud, but I’m not sure exactly how to improve the experience. Perhaps it’s because anything is better than what’s there now, but I think a chandelier like this would works on several levels. People won’t avoid this stretch of sidewalk anymore, which will increase foot traffic in the area. And of course, it will provide extra light, which is what all underpasses need at night.
Interestingly, in Toronto, a group is hoping to transform a one-mile stretch below a freeway into “civic rooms,” which will help to reconnect severed neighborhoods with art, walking trails, and public event space. But it’s the jarring juxtaposition here that makes the chandelier work as a single simple piece. It has to jolt you just enough out of your everyday life to become a spectacle that people will seek it out (and, more importantly, Instagram). Which means it will do more than make a formerly dark walkway bright—it might turn a blighted, forgotten corner of the city into an actual destination.
Follow the author at @awalkerinLA