• Cindy Zampa

PORTAL 52 Week 36: Peace Bridge

The reference photo used for creating this picture was taken by my nephew as we floated down Calgary's Bow River one beautiful Sunday afternoon. I have personally always loved this bridge, but its appearance spanning the Bow River was not welcomed by some residents of Calgary. Even prior to the final decision to build it, there was resistance. City council members voted for it to go ahead mere days before the economic crash of 2008, so initial complaints were about the funding costs of such infrastructure.

Then, the design itself was criticized. Some considered the red steel was not aesthetically suitable for the setting, and suggested that more natural materials be used. It was nicknamed the ‘Chinese Finger Trap’ due to its resemblance to the toy of that name. The fact that a foreign firm was selected to design it, rather than a local one, was a bone of contention for many.

Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, it is a helical steel structure with a glass roof that provides barrier free access to over 6000 pedestrians and cyclists a day. In 2009 Calatrava is said to have observed that this is “the most accessible, functional and technically challenging” bridge he’s ever made.

The bridge, originally scheduled to be opened in the fall of 2010, did not open to the public until March 24, 2012. Initially, the delay was caused by welding defects in the parts that were manufactured in Spain. Later, there were issues with the concrete slabs forming the abutments and deck of the bridge. In addition to these challenges, vandals broke some of the panes of glass that line the length of the bridge, and other glass panes shattered as a result of the freeze-thaw cycles that are part of Calgary’s weather.

Its bright red colour appeals to me, as well as its symmetrical, sculptural appearance. With the addition of lights, not only is the bridge safe to use at night, but its beauty is uniquely enhanced when it turns dark.

The Peace Bridge spans the entire river without any support from a pier in the middle. This design was intentionally used to reduce its ecological footprint. This feature is what allowed it to withstand Calgary’s flood of 2013, since there was nothing in the middle of the river to be impacted by the pressure of increased water flow or debris carried by the flood waters.

A unique perspective is available when one is on the surface of the water, floating past and under iconic landmarks. It is a different view to be sure, but one that allowed me to appreciate this bridge even more. I think it is just as beautiful when seen from the underside as it is topside.

Reference photo credit: Matthew McHugh

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