‘Living Bridges’ Concept Reimagines Urban Infrastructure

As governments globally invest in the repair and upgrade of infrastructure, new possibilities are emerging. Infrastructure has traditionally been viewed as an ongoing maintenance expense which is chronically underfunded. As a result, for example, bridges are in a perpetual state of disrepair. marrying revenue generation with infrastructure, Toronto-based architects Farrow Partners are proposing a ‘living bridges’ strategy that combines the physical infrastructure of bridges and roadways with commercial and residential uses.

Living Bridges, Farrow Partners
Toronto’s Bloor Viaduct as Living Bridge. Image via Farrow Partners

What if bridges were designed as long term, multi-use, high performing, revenue producing assets rather than single function, costly liabilities? The idea of building multi-use, multi-functional buildings and neighbourhoods has always been a core ingredient to creating highly successful cities. Equally, the idea of building multi-use, multi-functional infrastructure in the core of highly successful cities was invented long before car-centric planning norms dominated our thinking about urban bridges.

Although the idea seems novel and arguably radical, the construction of mixed-use ‘living bridges’ is hardly without precedent. For example, the Rialto Bridge in Venice and the Ponte Vecchio Bridge in Florence combine infrastructure with human-scale, walkable mixed-use urban assets. Beginning in the 15th century, shops were built along the sides of the Rialto Bridge so as to generate rental income for the State Treasury, as a way to generate revenues to help maintain the bridge.

Farrow Partners imagine a similar solution in Toronto. A rendering shows the Bloor Viaduct dramatically reimagined through the introduction of condominium units, a hotel, and a retail, with a new linear park topping the structure. Made technically possible by flexible GRIP Metal technology, the conceptual ‘living bridges’ project serves to highlight the aesthetic and economic possibilities of new mixed-use infrastructure.

Combining a new transformation in building technology with what’s touted as relatively affordable housing housing, the existing infrastructure of bridges can be transformed from passive structures.