South Street Bridge: noticing for the first (last) time

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When the South Street Bridge functioned as a connector, a canvas, a viewing platform it tended to recede from our consciousness. Undoubtedly, its workaday humility assisted its recession. It was, in a way, gone before it was demolished.

A structure is most legible at the points of birth and death; its interconnections are more discernible as they are added to and then subtracted from. In this way a building is more public in disuse, more open to interrogation in deconstruction, more candidly explanatory of its parts in dismemberment.

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Having images of the South Street Bridge’s birth and death, being able to see girders emplaced in 1923 on a cold Saturday in 2009 produces in the words of the mnemonist S.V. Shereshevskii, “the shock of the short circuit of time.” While this leads to the commonplace observation that the past isn’t so far away, these two moments exist outside irreversible profane time.

We can interpret destruction and rebirth at the same important site to be a kind of preservation of the universe by perpetual re-creation.

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If it recoiled from our perception as an object, now the bridge is paradoxically present as absence. A project like the South Street Bridge demolition lures us in with its great yawning absence growing ever larger. Curiously we are captivated by openness: absence where there was once confinement, enclosure, and presence.

This sense, though, is fleeting.  On a practical level the city can only be understood as a series of concrete realities in space.  For things to mean anything—for us to make meaningful lives we are drawn to this basic reality rather than to vacancy.

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But there is value to demolition beyond inducing melancholy. “We concentrate on inauguration,” the environmental psychologist Kevin Lynch writes, “so singlemindedly.” Demolition presents an opportunity to develop a past conversant with present and future, to feel know the process of building more intimately, to register our appreciations and to feel, alternately, the quickening sense of time and standing outside of normal time.

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