Magazine article Sunset

River Town

Magazine article Sunset

River Town

Article excerpt

Discover Redding, California's new bridge and waterfront parks


To stand on the glass deck of the new Sundial Bridge in Redding, California, is to feel suspended between heaven and earth. With the salmon-filled Sacramento River rushing beneath your feet and the bridge's gleaming white mast spiking more than 200 feet skyward, you could almost be floating on the mellow, cottonwood-scented evening breeze.

Soaring, yet intimate-the $23.5 million span that opened on the Fourth of july is for people, not cars-the Sundial is destined to become California's second-most-recognized bridge. But the 710-foot suspension bridge is more than an audacious architectural statement: It's the final turn in Redding's slow reorientation toward the Sacramento River.

It wasn't all that long ago that the river was seen as barely accessible-a resource valued mostly for electrical generation, irrigation, and gravel production. Now it's the centerpiece of a 20-mile riverside trail system, a museum complex, and, by next May, an arboretum and botanical garden. People are birding, hiking, and cycling here, and anglers are pulling huge rainbow trout out of the river's restored fishery. The new Sundial Bridge brings it all together, and September is a great month to take in all that the river has to offer.

More than just a bridge

In spite of a globe-spanning resume that included some three dozen bridges among projects in 17 countries, Santiago Calatrava had never built a bridge in the U.S. Part architect, part engineer, and part artist, the 54-year-old Spaniard turned out to be the perfect designer.

The engineering challenges were daunting. The bridge would have to span critical salmon spawning grounds without putting any footings in the river below. Calatrava's solution: Build a single pylon tall enough to cantilever a full 80 percent of the bridge from the north bank of the river. Nonskid glass decking lets cloud-soft light fall on the river below.

Simple and elegant, like a harp rocked back on its frame, the bridge and its spire had an unexpected surprise for its designer. "After environmental assessments showed the ideal place for construction, we saw that the bridge would run exactly north-south," Calatrava says. "This relates the bridge to the cosmos, just as a sundial does. When the shadow cast by the mast passes over the plaza on the north side of the river, it marks off the hours. …

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