The priorities for public building projects these days, be it a new sheriff’s department, sports complex or four-lane overpass, are impossibly conflicting. Even after you organize those priorities by weight — I’m assuming public safety would be first, followed by the use of environmentally-friendly processes and sustainable materials, and then price tags and financing options — there’s still a lot of leeway in the extent to which you take each one. Inevitably, the more you reinforce that courthouse in Tornado Alley and the more rainfall recovery systems you install in that former-bank-turned-city hall, the higher the costs go.
That’s one of the reasons that the movement toward design-build structures is so exciting: It cuts costs without cutting either one of the more crucial design considerations. Instead, it eliminates some of the administrative overhead involved in major building projects. Although it may not be feasible for the most innovative or technically and architecturally difficult designs, it seems to work efficiently in many communities.
Another environmentally-friendly building trend may have been forced upon us by the recession, but it’s a welcome direction regardless: renovating and repurposing structures whose initial function is now irrelevant.
The Purple People Bridge between Newport, Ky., and Cincinnati, Ohio, is an example of outside the box thinking in regard to giving new value to an old structure. The former railroad trestle garnered its name from its current function as a pedestrian walkway and its color — a regal purple. But there’s more big news on the horizon: a potential $100 million hotel and entertainment center that would be built on the bridge’s deck, right over the Ohio River.
Reclaim an existing structure for public enjoyment and commercial investment? In the Purple People Bridge’s case, it was done by communities coming together to accomplish projects bigger than themselves, yet benefit the entire region. That cooperation looks to be the new key to survival. We already know that using it to renovate public structures is just the tip of the iceberg.