With days warming up and getting longer, and with Frick Chemistry Lab occupied and athletic programs in full swing, the masterfully designed Streicker Bridge over Washington Street is coming up to its first anniversary, and apparently meeting with mixed reviews.
Although noted for its ease of access to campus buildings lining both sides of Washington Street, not everyone is wild about its contemporary design.
“It’s really ugly,” commented one student who did not wish to be named, and who shook his head, declining further comment to explain his position.
Streiker Bridge, which opened last summer, has an elongated “X” footprint, and connects the two sides of busy Washington Street between Faculty Road and Ivy Lane, south of Jadwin Hall. On the campus’ western side, the two bridge entrances front Roberts Stadium and Poe and Pardee Fields, along with Icahn Laboratory (home of the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics) and the future site of the planned psychology and neuroscience complex. Crossing over the bridge to its eastern side brings the pedstrian to an open pavillion and the entrances to the new Frick Chemistry Lab and Jadwin Hall, the physics building, with Jadwin Gymnasium and Princeton Stadium beyond. When the bridge opened, it created a direct pathway between the science buildings and athletic facilities on either side of Washington Street.
The most noticeable aspect of the bridge design is the metal sillouette that makes a stretched crescent curve over Washington Street. But otherwise, it almost flows or fades into the surrounding environment. It has a lightly colored concrete footpath that rises up to 24 feet above the noise and fray of the street below before descending on either side. There are pleasant views of the campus, forested woodlands, and stream valley next to the bridge, providing a welcome change of scenery if one takes the time to look around.
The bridge’s contemporary design, however, is most clearly reflected in the flat, stainless steel posts that curve slightly inward as they rise overhead, lining both sides of the walk. It almost suggests the curving bone structure of a gigantic rib cage (imagine Jonah in the Biblical whale’s belly) as the evenly spaced posts are covered with a membrane of stainless steel mesh and connected by a single line of stainless steel railing.
The bridge’s design and construction were developed by an extremely talented team of engineers and designers with international reputations for excellence. Christian Menn, a noted Swiss engineer, designed the bridge in collaboration with HNTB New York, the project’s executive engineering firm. In addition to Menn and HNTB, the project team included Turner Construction Company (the construction manager), Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (landscape architecture), and Van Note Harvey (civil engineers). The bridge was named after real estate executive John Harrison Streicker, a member of Princeton’s class of 1964 who gave a gift to the university to fund the project.
Ted Zoli, vice-president and technical director of bridges at HNTB, described the holistic elegance and minimalist structure of the design.
“As the arch both supports the walkway and is stabilized by it, the two parts of the footbridge interact in a particulary elegant and effective manner,” Zoli said. “As a means of fostering interaction between the sciences and as a gateway to the campus, the Streicker Bridge’s form serves as an apt metaphor for its function.”
From a less abstract point of view, the bridge is notable for its high-tech system of sensors built into the infrastructure to measure bridge performance. About 100 point sensors are taking up to 25,000 measurements per second on the structure while a 122-foot long cable/sensor uses about 800 points to collect data on temperature, strain, and vibration in the bridge’s concrete material. The data is used by engineers to compare actual bridge performance with computer simulations of how it is supposed to behave, according to a fact sheet issued by the university’s Office of Communications.
Whether one likes the bridge design or not, one can’t overlook the astounding technology built into its deceiving minimalist design. There is also the convenience factor as well as the aesthetics of walking high above street traffic, with less noise and a pleasant view of the campus and woodlands, as opposed to standing by a street curb, perhaps in the rain, with cars rushing by, waiting for a chance to cross the busy street.