Untitled Document

Commissions: Dale Chihuly, Bridge of Glass

Angela Melkisethian
December 2002

Dale Chihuly's Bridge of Glass debuted on July 6, 2002 in conjunction with the opening of the Museum of Glass: International Center for Contemporary Art. The artwork for the bridge, Chihuly's largest public display, was commissioned by the museum, which donated the installations to the City of Tacoma. In the planning stages since 1993, Bridge of Glass is seen as a source of revitalization for the industrial downtown area. The 500-foot pedestrian bridge arches over Interstate 705, connecting Tacoma's Union Station and the Washington State History Museum to the Museum of Glass located on the waterfront. "I hope it offers the people a public space downtown they can use and enjoy," says Chihuly, who has referred to the bridge as "a gateway to the city."

The actual structure of the bridge is not glass, but concrete and painted steel. Chihuly selected the Austin-based architecture firm Andersson-Wise in 1994 to help develop the design concept. The bridge was designed not to compete with the artworks, but to provide a neutral backdrop. "Aesthetically, it was important that these pavilions [of the bridge] became the frame, not the picture of the bridge," says architect Arthur Andersson.

Three separate pavilions incorporate Chihuly's Seaform Pavilion, Venetian Wall, and Crystal Towers. The Towers, which rise 40 feet above the bridge, are the most visible from a distance. They are made from a glass-like substance Chihuly calls polyvitro, a polyurethane material better suited to the outdoor elements than glass itself. The hollow blue crystals, some reaching five feet, reflect light just like glass. The other installations require closer inspection. Seaform Pavilion is an enclosed installation formed of over 2,000 "cones, flasks, and roundels" encased in a 50-by-20-foot plate glass ceiling. Chihuly took inspiration from the color and organic variety of the sea floor. The second enclosed pavilion, Venetian Wall, consists of a series of 110 glass cases each containing a blown-glass sculpture. At night the cases and pavilions are illuminated by specially designed fiber-optic lighting systems.

©2002 Sculpture