I was on a road trip this weekend that took me around the Capitol Beltway and across the D.C. area's new Woodrow Wilson Bridge. I don't want to sell Philadelphia short and I'm leery of drawing comparisons between such a massive, federally funded endeavor and a localized project like the South Street Bridge.
I also loathe giving D.C. credit when it comes to architecture, especially when compared to Philadelphia. Sure, the Nation's Capitol is home to some seriously impressive monuments to the gods of Democracy, but in a lot of ways the area's transient nature has littered the metropolitan area with uninspired developments for those who call D.C., Maryland, or Virginia a bed and not a home.
While our Center City is home to a few Soviet style blocks of apartments, apartment blocks like the Kennedy House and those along City Line Avenue are the norm in D.C., even in today's construction. It's actually ironic that a city that governs one of the largest capitalistic Democracies in the world looks more like Moscow in the 80's than a bastion of consumerism like New York or Chicago. Without going on a political aside, I'm sure it has to do with the fact that much of the area is built with government money and not private investment.
While the improvements over its predecessor include a bike lane and sidewalk, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge is in itself about as exciting as an Annandale McMansion (not to mention it shares the South's obsession with long, concrete spans in lieu of sky scraping suspension bridges), the drawbridge's control tower is absolutely beautiful. Finished in a sepia toned brushed aluminum, the glass and metal tower is turned like an Art Deco era Hudson facing the wind head on with no hesitation. In fact, the only thing about the control tower that isn't completely flawless is the fact that it's designed isn't echoed in the rest of the bridge.
When I crossed the bridge, I immediately thought of the four towers that stand atop the new South Street Bridge and what could have been. While I don't think the South Street Bridge is terrible, the Woodrow Wilson control tower demonstrates how, with just a little more creativity, it could have been so much better.
Obviously South Street's towers do not need the structural elements that Woodrow Wilson required. But by comparison, the materials and angles use on South Street just seem lackluster. Our lighting scheme is at least interesting, but architecturally, spotlights should be used to highlight great design, not replace it.