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CONFLUENCE POINT BRIDGES AND RANGER STATION / SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA



CLIENT: Hargreaves Associates

SITE: Guadalupe River Park at the confluence of Guadalupe River and Los Gatos Creek in downtown San Jose

PROGRAM: Pedestrian bridges and visitors' center in urban flood control project/park

SIZE: 2.5 acres

COST: $1.15 million

COMPLETION: May 1997

NOTES: Cast-in-place concrete construction throughout on mat footing; active/passive solar louver system and building geometry

PROJECT TEXT: A 1% (100 year flood) would inundate the urban core of San Jose. The Corps of Engineers Guadalupe River Flood Control Project was initiated to mitigate this critical flood threat. This initial program, including concrete channels, rip-rap and widening of the river, was expanded to create a significant urban amenity, the Guadalupe River Park. Gardens, plazas and trail systems will form a 2.6 mile long continuous urban park that celebrates the river’s existence in the center of a redeveloping downtown.

The confluence of the Guadalupe River and Los Gatos Creek, at the center of the park, yields a triangular “island” of land named Confluence Point. Functionally and aesthetically this is the central focus of the park. To be developed as a unique civic feature, the site and its bridges will provide critical linkage between the downtown and its new arena (to be completed in 1993).

Implementation Schedule To be accomplished in phases, construction of the Guadalupe River Park began in 1988. Construction documentation has commenced for the third phase of the park which includes the Confluence Point site. The architectural component of the project is being designed in concert with the landscape architect’s work for the park as a whole. Construction of the point is scheduled to begin in the Fall 1993.

The Site The point itself is surrounded by dense riparian landscape. The Southern edge of the site is bounded by a heavily trafficked cross-town arterial. The bridge lands on an outdoor amphitheater area adjacent to the arena. An eastern bridge, to be built during a subsequent phase, will span a “flood plain”, a large active recreation and event area that is configured to accommodate the anticipated large volume flood waters.

The Program The program calls for these two bridges to be sized to accommodate the “flood” of spectators attending events at the arena. Phasing of the project requires that the first bridge provide linkage between Santa Clara Street to the south and the arena to the west. Ultimately, the primary pedestrian flow will be east and west across both bridges.

The point will serve as an orientation center displaying appropriate information for visitors to the park. A variety of public spaces that variously support passive recreation and assembly uses are to be situated to take advantage of the site’s relationship to the water. The point will become a gathering place and point of departure for activities throughout the park. Ranger orientation talks and interpretive lectures will be accommodated.

The building serves as a base of operations and observation point for park rangers. Public restrooms will also be provided.

Project Constraints The client body includes an array of public agencies, regulatory bodies and community groups. Design efforts must satisfy the often disparate requirements of community user groups, maintenance personnel, police and rangers, and the Corps of Engineers. The design must embody the collective aspirations of this substantial contingent.

Flood control requirements dictate bridge heights, influence abutment locations and the overall placement of structures on the site. Fish and game requirements additionally constrain the design requiring that river banks be maintained in their natural state and that sunlight, where it penetrates to the river, remain unimpeded, and shade where it occurs, be maintained.

The Response “The more simply and essentially (equipment is) engrossed in (its) essence, the more directly and engagingly do all beings attain a greater degree of being along with (it). In Hiedegger’s schema equipment disappears into usefullness and the “work” becomes more visible. The Confluence Point Project can been seen in this light, as the architectural elements seeks their equipmental nature. This is not to say that we have abandoned the architecture’s ability to speak. Though equipment is somewhat more limited in that regard than say art, it is certainly not mute: equipment is by its very nature more approachable; more used; the possibility for engagement is significant when it opens a world.

An Architecture conceived of as equipment is realized in considered responses to context and program, in unselfconscious forms and details, and an overriding concern for appropriateness at all scales. This project seeks to make the most of limited project funds through the creative and critical application of simple materials. The pedestrian bridge is formed by two prefabricated truss bridges that are embellished with plate steel panels and other supporting details—the bridge is made compelling by the addition of a relatively limited number of detailed moves. The building component is made more substantial by the appropriation of the major flood control walls as architectural elements. The sincere and straightforward application of simple materials like concrete, cement plaster, weathering steel structural frame and metal siding carry this equipmental attitude through to the details..Lighthearted leaf form elements allude to the projects once precarious setting in the center of the flood channel, recalling flotsam trapped by the architecture in the path of a raging flood.

The program is consolidated in a single structure located at the street edge to “hold down” the overall site and reinforce the urban street edge—mediating between towers and nature. The building is conceived of as a control cab affording a critical viewpoint for the Ranger, the park’s appointed master of ceremonies. The understanding of the building as a prospect or promontory is reinforced by the creation of a stair between the structure and the street edge that leads down to the pedestrian/bicycle path that travels along the river’s edge.

Orientation/interpretive functions are accommodated at the second level on an open concrete on metal roof deck that affords visitors with views of the entire site.

Confluence Point deserves recognition for both its critical application of an appropriate or equipmental attitude and the opportunities for engagement that result.