bridging a chord: calatrava in jerusalem

 Jerusalem’s Chords Bridge by architect Calatrava marks an important moment of emotional and urban renewal for the ancient city. The Chords Bridge’s 118m-canted pylon and asymmetric cable-stayed span is its highest structure, crossing a nexus of major road routes. It is a pedestrian and (beginning August 2011) light rail link that connects the city with Jerusalem’s outskirts.

Its defiant posture and unique engineering, set against an historic neighbourhood, has also connected along the span of its construction- beginning to end- with fierce criticism.

Nir Alon, freelance journalist, has pointed to cost overruns, and delays in linking Jerusalem’s first light rail systems which the bridge carries. In ‘Jerusalem’s Calatrava Bridge: Beauty or Egocentric Monstrosity?’ Alon leaves the reader in no doubt that he faults its design for problems and delays, referring to its long period of unveiling as “a bridge to nowhere”. “Jerusalem,” he writes,

“has just joined Valencia, Seville, Lisbon, Lyon and other cities in the world proudly displaying Calatrava’s monumental designs.”

A more important question lies however in whether civil projects should invite opportunities for the creation of landmarks and individual creativity. Do Valencia, Seville, and Lyon share the distinction of ‘egocentric monstrosities’ or, do they share- as with Jerusalem’s Chords Bridge-  a truly distinctive landmark, a bridge creative of geographic moments literally and spiritually transporting reattachment to ‘place’? Do they carry more than just a load span? Structures such as Seville’s Alamillo Bridge (also by Calatrava) have become sources of civic pride and urban regeneration. Could a “conventional concrete bridge” costing half the Chords Bridge $70M price tag?

During construction, Architectural Record critic Esther Hecht noted arguments that Jerusalem is a ‘poor city’, with “enough monuments to attract tourists and cannot afford another”. Both parts of this statement would seem to contradict one another here.

Is it ‘enough’ that many of Jerusalem’s historic landmarks are also recognized sites of contemporary discord as well as history?

Has it enough of another kind, so many that the Chords Bridge need not have gained international attention as modern, secular, an engineering marvel in the heart of Jerusalem that links light rail commuters and pedestrians, alleviates hourly peak traffic by up to 23000 cars, and is shared by all the city’s inhabitants? That reaches heavenwards and across town, linking tourists to the city’s ancient wonders while attracting its own?

The Chords Bridge, coming as it does during the 60th anniversary of Israel, may mark a unique and majestic site of re-attachment, an engineering feat, a cause for wonder and celebration in a city in need of new journeys ♦[Photos sourced and attributed from Flickr Commons]