Saturday, 23 November 2013

A Bridge for the Passing

I love skybridges, they might be my favourite kind of structures. There were many in my hometown, I grew up around this stuff and now I try to walk on one whenever I can. There's obviously that nostalgic element, but also sometimes when I'm having a day I feel the need to stand in the middle of the sky where I can look down on everyone and no one can look at me. It's not REALLY like standing in the sky, but it IS kind of like levitating on that 2-3 floor height (at least in terms of perspective), which is a very comfortable place for me. All of my flying dreams were sky-walking and sky-running dreams, and when in dreams this was the height I travelled on. I've heard of sky-swimming dreams, apparently they're quite common, but I guess I wasn't made up that way.

When I found out that they have built a wooden skybridge across Schikade in 2012 I was pretty psyched. I like wooden constructions. They were meant to appear more traditional and human and artisenal so they do. When I looked up more info on the bridge I grew increasingly impressed-- this Luchtsingel project got some 3 million euros funding from a direct-democracy initiative where the citizens of Rotterdam voted to choose a project to spend money on. They chose for this, which have consequently made it a bridge of the people.

Furthermore, the bridge acquired another portion of its funding from a crowd-funding model where you can pay 25 euros or so to purchase a wooden plank, with your name and/or a special message written over it. Not only will this plank be used to build the bridge, it will be placed at a visible position where everyone who ever walk over this bridge can see. This is, of course, a great occasion for silly romantic markings like "Josef <3 Marry forever", but it is also an opportunity for organisations and companies to advertise. Some have done this by leaving a web domain on their plank. These messages are not only shown on the bridge, but also on the bridge's website. For anyone interested in the magical power of intentions in a greater building process, there are over 3000 messages and names for you to analyse and conjure. This is a bridge of the people, and evidently people are capable of being and representing many things. A dense collection of meanings directly related to the city and its population is always worth noticing for local sorcerers. 

I guess there is much to be said about this magic but there was one particular thought that I could not get off my mind: Web domains die when people stop paying for them. Conceivably, at one point in the future most of the domain names on Luchtsingel will be dead, and this bridge will become a graveyard for websites. And then, naturally, the next logical thought hit me: People die as well. People always, eventually, die for sure. If the Luchtsingel is still around in a hundred years, it will actually be a graveyard, like, for people.

Graveyard might not be the best classification for a place like this. Graveyards usually carry physical remains, this bridge will only carry dead names and messages. On the other hand, consider that in a traditional graveyard where people are buried underground,  the actual body will in time be eaten away by the soil, at which point the physical grave only becomes an indicational marking of the fact that the body was once there. At famous historical figures' tombs which are commonly exploited for touristic activities, it is very often the case that the real body is stored elsewhere, and people (knowingly) come to pay tribute to an empty casket. I think the distinction between a grave and other types of memorial locations can be arbitrary. I like to put them in the same category. 

Let's imagine that the Luchtsingel lasts for long enough to become a grave site. Maybe it's somewhat grim to see it like that, but in design terms I think it actually makes a lot of sense. Death is often imagined as a passage. From the known into the unknown, from being into non-being, from existence into the other. For the religious, Death can mean many more things and in several popular religions this passage-understanding of Death is very clearly defined. Walking across a death-bridge seems to be a fitting gesture to remember those who have passed. Future architects may consider to go one step further,  and infuse the ashes of the dead into a bridge of concrete as a new grave form. I'd like to be immortalised like that. I'd like to be guaranteed a part in something humanly useful even after I'm gone.

Bridges have yet another connection to death. Looking back to my hometown, there was a scenic tourist destination with a historical suspension bridge spanning across some beautiful green waters. There were mountains and children and couples and buskers and the place gives a beautiful, welcoming vibe. What many foreign visitors do not know, is that the bridge is also a popular suicide spot, and in 2012 alone there were 22 suicidal leap-offs (almost twice a month, man). For those who cannot swim, leaping off into these deep waters from a great height is like leaping into a green abyss. There were also those who jumped while wearing a backpack filled with rocks, so that their deathly determination will not be overcome by their survival instinct, and they would sink straight down to the very bottom with no chance of ever coming up. It's sad. It's disturbing. There are a lot of ghost stories in that place.

A few weeks ago, here in Rotterdam, they have started working on the next phase of the Luchtsingel project and they built the main parts of another skybridge, this time across the railroads. I went to see it the day after it was done. At first I expected it to look the same as the first bridge, and was a little confused about the purpose of its heightened sides. But then I remembered all the sad reports we've heard about trains being delayed. I can see people walking through this new bridge in the future and discussing the design's preventative nature. It'll be a somewhat gloomy topic for conversations, but much less so than actual stories of haunting.

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