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The Bay Bridge Deconstruction: Can Demolition Be Sustainable?

The Bay Bridge Deconstruction: Can Demolition Be Sustainable?

San Francisco’s Bay Bridge, which has served as a work-horse for the bay area since 1936, is undergoing demolition to make way for a more contemporary counterpart. The new bridge is already becoming a world icon claiming its spot as one of the most seismically advanced structures in the world. It is the world’s longest and

San Francisco’s Bay Bridge, which has served as a work-horse for the bay area since 1936, is undergoing demolition to make way for a more contemporary counterpart. The new bridge is already becoming a world icon claiming its spot as one of the most seismically advanced structures in the world. It is the world’s longest and widest self-anchored suspension bridges at 2,047 feet in length and 258 feet in width. It is even the first suspension bridge without direct connection of the road decks to the central tower. What a surreal yet beautiful realization. To be able to travel roads suspended effortlessly in mid-air above water.

View of old and new Bay Bridge, San Francisco, California

For obvious reasons, the bay area’s new work-horse gets the job done in effortless elegance. But what about its more industrial precedent? With a cost tagged near $245 million, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is deconstructing the original Bay Bridge over the next three to five years. With numerous delays and added expense, Bay Area residents are becoming increasingly impatient. A handful of dynamite and some strategically placed cargo ships will get the job done right? Maybe, but not in the safest, most eco-friendly manner.

Can the words “sustainable” and “eco-friendly” be used in the same context as “destruction” and “demolition”? Absolutely. Who do we turn to first for design inspiration and innovation? The Japanese of course! Known widely as the “incredible shrinking building,” engineers in Tokyo have developed a sustainable, self-contained demolition system far from the hasty use of explosives. The process takes place beneath the building. Each floor is cleared, structural members and all, carted away, and the next floor is lowered to go through the same process.

Bridge deconstruction process, San Francisco, California

Caltrans is implementing a similar process, by carefully picking apart the nearly two mile long bridge piece by piece and then carting them away. But what is happening to these remnants after they leave the site? The city claims to have interest in salvaging a life for the historic bridge after being dismantled, but these thoughts are slowly fading. Aside from a few small pieces going to museums or parks, the majority will be scrapped. That is over 58,000 tons of steel and 245,000 tons of concreteWith such high numbers and the bridge’s attached history, it becomes difficult to ignore its potential for reuse.

One organization, called the Bay Bridge House Project, views the dismembered body of the bridge as a goldmine for repurposed design. They have a vision of preserving an integral piece of bay area history for nostalgists and future generations through sustainable eco house design. Constructed from limbs of the bridge, their eco-friendly houses would be single-family, multi-use spaces.

Fully equipped with:

  • Solar panels
  • Green roofs
  • Rainwater reclamation systems

Utilized bridge materials:

  • Steel I-beams and girders
  • Trusses
  • Concrete
  • Road sections
  • Wire/Fencing
  • Walkways/Ladders

Severed end of Bay Bridge, San Francisco, California

What a beautiful concept of sustainability. Turning destruction into creation. An end leading to a beginning. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the old bay bridge could have a life past its destruction.

How else can dismissed materials be given a life beyond the intended to create sustainable practice around the world?

Credits: Images by Lauren Golightly. Data linked to sources.

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Lauren Golightly is a graduate of the University of New Mexico with a degree in Architecture and Art History. Her studies in art history are based in architectural history, theory and criticism, and focus on modern and contemporary influences. A back...

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