Chihuly Bridge of Glass
"This will be the gateway that welcomes people to Tacoma. We wanted something unique in the world, something that has a lot of color, a joyous experience, night or day." —Chihuly
"Chihuly was adamant from the start that the bridge needed to be a place for people, not an abstract construct understood only by a few in the art world." —Andersson
The Chihuly Bridge of Glass is a 500-foot-long pedestrian bridge linking downtown Tacoma, Washington, to the city's waterfront, the Thea Foss Waterway. Conceived by Dale Chihuly, artist and native of Tacoma, and designed in collaboration with Arthur Andersson of Andersson·Wise Architects, it is a display of color and form soaring seventy feet into the air. The Chihuly Bridge of Glass, commissioned by the Museum of Glass: International Center for Contemporary Art, was gifted by the museum to the city of Tacoma. On July 6, 2002, the bridge was dedicated and opened to the public.
"Dale and I studied the great bridges of the world. We discovered they all had one thing in common: they all spanned a river, gorge, or some other natural obstacle. Our context is different: our river is a river of cars and trains; our gorge is a gorge of concrete and metal."—Andersson
The Chihuly Bridge of Glass, which crosses Interstate 705, links the Washington State History Museum with the Museum of Glass. The design phase of the bridge began in 1994. Chihuly and Andersson initially proposed that the bridge feature five small structures, inspired by glasshouses, each containing an installation of Chihuly's glass. As the project developed, Chihuly became more interested in large-scale sculptural installations. The collaboration between artist and architect evolved, as did their thinking of the size and character of the bridge installations.
"I love to go to the ocean and walk along the beach. Glass is so much like water. If you let it go on its own, it almost ends up looking like something that came from the sea." —Chihuly
The Seaform Pavilion is a ceiling made of 2,364 objects from Chihuly's Seaform and Persian series. Seaforms have soft, undulating sides and rims, and feature delicate, flowing forms and colors. Persians, the exotic cousin to the Seaforms, are a rich variety of cones, flasks, and roundels with spiraling ribbons of color. Placed on top of a fifty-by-twenty-foot plate-glass ceiling, the forms are suspended in midair and make dramatic use of natural light. Fluorescent lights augment daylight on cloudy days and illuminate the pavilion at night. The tinted glass side walls of the pavilion allow viewers to immerse themselves in the space without distraction. As visitors walk under this pavilion, they experience a seemingly underwater world of glass shapes and forms a few feet above their heads.
"The crystals are hollow and glacial blue in color. As with glass, it is really light that makes the Polyvitro crystals come alive." —Chihuly
Continuing on, pedestrians will approach the Crystal Towers, which mark the center of the bridge. The towers rise forty feet above the bridge deck and serve as beacons of light for the bridge and city. Illuminated from the landscape below, the forms glow at night. Chihuly made the 63 large crystals in each tower from Polyvitro, a polyurethane material developed to withstand the elements. He first used Polyvitro crystals in the Crystal Mountain, a sculpture created for the exhibition Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem 2000. The Crystal Tower elements are raw, brutal forms, monumental and bold, that appear as if cut from mountain peaks or taken from frozen alpine lakes.
"The glass behind the Venetian Wall is facing south, so it gets light all the time. You can sit and view the Venetians on concrete benches facing the pavilion and be enveloped in color and shape." —Chihuly
At the Venetian Wall the pedestrian sees an eighty-foot installation displaying 109 Chihuly sculptures. The Venetian Wall is a rich array of objects from three of Chihuly's series: Venetians, Ikebana, and Putti, which provide a unique opportunity to see how one series inspires another. The Venetians are exuberant sculptures with origins in Venetian Art Deco glass. Ikebana are quiet pieces, created in the spirit of traditional Japanese floral arrangements. Putti were popular figures in European art of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and represent Cupid, the Roman god of love. Chihuly's Putti play and dance atop classical formed vases. The case is made of black stainless steel frames and translucent glass walls, providing natural backlighting during the day. Fiber-optic lights illuminate the artwork at night. The Venetian Wall is a collection of some of the largest blown-glass works executed in the history of the medium.
Tacoma, Washington, founded in 1874, and once known as the lumber capital of the world, is now a major seaport and railroad terminus and one of the chief industrial cities of the Northwest. The City of Tacoma, along with George and Jane Russell and other visionary members of the Executive Council for a Greater Tacoma, proposed the idea of a pedestrian bridge and a glass museum as part of an overall plan to revitalize the Thea Foss Waterway. With an emphasis on cultural development—five museums (the Museum of Glass, Harold E. Lemay Museum, the Pioneer Motorcycle Museum, Tacoma Art Museum, and Washington State History Museum) and a redeveloped historic theater district—Tacoma is quickly becoming a city known for its dedication to the arts of the Northwest.
Chihuly's hometown also has many examples of the master's work. The largest and most comprehensive collection of his work is held by the Tacoma Art Museum. With over 40 examples, the Tacoma Art Museum is the place to study early Chihuly, and thanks to more recent gifts from the artist, it is also a living collection.
Chihuly's monumental-scale work began in 1994 with five grand installations at Tacoma's Union Station, a Romanesque Revival railway station given new purpose as a federal courthouse in 1992. Working together with the U.S. government, the Tacoma Art Museum, and local patrons, Chihuly created a now much-loved destination point—free to the public and recently chartered to be on view for 100 years.
Major public commissions in the area include installations at the University of Washington-Tacoma Library, University of Puget Sound, Pacific Lutheran University, and the Tacoma News Tribune.
The Chihuly Bridge of Glass is an important addition to Tacoma's cultural landscape, a significant milestone in Chihuly's career, and a metaphor for his life's work in the medium. The Chihuly Bridge of Glass makes physical the evolution of his ideas, from making objects to creating sculptural environments and finally assembling large architectural, site-specific works.
"To put this delicate artistic creation in an urban environment is an important social comment. It involves a lot of trust and mutual cooperation from the community." —Andersson