Some of the architecture and engineering projects we work on are massive and high-profile, involving iconic structures such as the Pentagon or Hoover Dam Bypass. Others, while much smaller and known only to their local communities, have an impact that goes well beyond their modest scale.
The Pablo Pedestrian Bridge in western Montana is one such project. You know an engineering project is cool when you hear about it from the architecture group. My architecture colleagues shared a Google news alert about this wonderful little bridge.
Built to provide pedestrian access over four-lane Highway 93 as it traverses the Flathead Indian Reservation, the bridge provides an important link for the Salish and Kootenai tribal communities. It connects the Salish Kootenai College on the east side of the highway with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe headquarters on the west side.
It could have been just another nondescript structure. Instead, it visually honors the tribe’s heritage by featuring stylized metal tepees that tower more than 60 feet, and incorporating tribal geometric patterns in the bridge trusses and tepee landing railings. In an interview with The Missoulian, Tribal Health and Human Services department head Kevin Howlett said, “This connects our community, and where we are with our future.” He called the bridge an “integral part of the People’s Way,” which is what Highway 93 is called as it passes through the reservation.
Every bridge is a noun, a structure that safely transports people and objects across obstacles such as roads or rivers. At its best, a bridge is also a verb—providing a living link to community or memory. The Pablo Pedestrian Bridge is both a noun and a verb. Not only does it connect tribal members to each other; it also connects them to their rich traditions and culture.
Images courtesy of Jackie Fox