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Long-term Means Restriction Study for Bridges 

In the spring of 2010, Cornell University installed chain link fences on seven bridges on or adjacent to the Ithaca campus as an emergency response to three suicides from the bridges. The university also consulted with suicide prevention experts, who strongly recommended that Cornell develop a permanent system to restrict access to the bridges for the purpose of suicide. 

Mindful of the aesthetic, historical and architectural significance of the bridges, Cornell worked with the City of Ithaca to select a designer who could bring exceptional clarity, sensitivity and artfulness to the project, and produce solutions with minimal visual impact on the dramatic vistas from the bridges.

We selected NADAAA from Boston, Massachusetts, led by designer Nader Tehrani. In their proposal, NADAAA outlined a clear and comprehensive design approach involving an interrelated set of factors, including campus/urban planning, structural typologies and innovative fabrication techniques. It is a collaborative design process that will produce alternative approaches for each of the major existing bridge types. 

Because the design process would take nearly a year to complete, and the chain link fences were unacceptable to so many people, the university replaced them with lightweight black fences as an interim measure. 

Design Process

The five step design process for this project was carefully structured to facilitate vital community discussion at early pre-decisional stages of the effort.  

The first step, entitled “Site Analysis and Research,” provided the architect with time to study the individual sites as well as review bridge means restriction techniques to formulate a basis of knowledge on which to build their future explorations.  These findings were presented to various community and campus forums for discussion to obtain feedback and further inform the subsequent design process. 

The next early design stage is called “Pre-Schematic Design,” which explores three distinctly different solutions per each of the three basic bridge types (pedestrian, vehicular and stone arch).  The three variations of the three basic bridge types ensures that a spectrum of possibilities is researched  and shared with the community prior to committing to any specific design direction for each bridge.  Each of the variations will generate discussions that will help the designers better understand community sentiments regarding their designs and well inform the process to determine a specific direction for each bridge that will be further developed in the “Schematic Design.”  This stage of the design process refines a specific design for each bridge and will be the documentation that is submitted to both the Cornell Trustees and the City of Ithaca for approval.    

To include as many voices as possible in this highly inclusive design process, presentations of the design are being made to several forums. The City/CU bridge means restriction study committee is comprised of representatives from major stakeholder groups such as City Public Works, Public Safety, student, staff, and faculty members to facilitate more detailed technical and cultural discussions on necessary resources to inform the designs. Broader input is garnered through various public forums in the City and on campus.  

The latter two stages of design, “Design Development” and “Construction Document,” are for the purposes of developing technical drawings for the actual construction of the means restriction.