Architect stresses collaboration for improving bridges

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Claudia Wheatley

The relationship between Cornell, its campus and Ithaca will be the key to improving the safety of gorge bridges, according to the architect who will design long-term means restriction.

"The era of the designer in his own little atelier in the clouds is over. This is a project that is aggressively engaged in community-building, in collaboration," said architect Nader Tehrani of the firm Office dA.

Tehrani spoke at two meetings Sept. 14 to kick off the Means Restriction Study, a city of Ithaca/Cornell partnership to address bridge-related accidents and deaths on and near campus. "Means restriction" refers to limiting access to a method of suicide. Information presented at the meetings, held on campus in G-10 Biotechnology Building and at the Holiday Inn in downtown Ithaca, were identical.

Vice President for Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy outlined ways the university is expanding its support of student well-being with new education and outreach programs and more clinical services.

Cornell Architect Gilbert Delgado talked about the process by which the university selected the architecture firm. "The objective of the project is to develop an effective and artful design that minimizes impact to the spectacular views and surrounding natural areas," Delgado said.

He also outlined the timeline and phases of the study, which include several opportunities for public discussion and feedback. Office dA will begin a site analysis of the bridges, he said, and present in public forums three alternatives for each type of bridge: pedestrian, vehicular and the stone arch on College Avenue. The university will file site plan review applications for the projects with the city of Ithaca by May 31, 2011.

Tehrani discussed his firm's experience with project design. The firm is known for its innovative use of materials and its creative approach to various design problems.

There are many possible ways to make the bridges safer, he said, from using nets, archways or transparent materials to raising the tops and profiles of railings to landscaping and lighting.

In June, a panel of experts recommended using a multifaceted approach to suicide prevention and noted that Cornell has been using such an approach, which includes well-being education, outreach and clinical services. However, the consultants observed that in hindsight, one gap in the approach was a lack of means restrictions on the bridges. A growing body of research indicates that restricting access to well-recognized, accessible jumping sites has a substantial probability of reducing deaths by this means, and perhaps suicide rates overall. If deterred from their attempt at that site at a particular time, most individuals do not commit suicide in other ways or in other places, the report said.

In response to a student's question, Delgado said students will have a voice in the design process through public forums and with representation on the city/university bridge committee; the architects will also consider students' designs for barriers from a recent competition.

The project does not include construction of new bridges, Tehrani said. "We're talking about stealth interventions."

Audience members urged the city/university bridge committee to maintain the views from the bridges, use live streaming and social networking to include more people in public forums, keep alumni up-to-date on developments and make the project a teaching opportunity for students.

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