The new barriers flanking the bridges at Cornell present a serious dilemma. While they are intended to prevent impulsive suicides, they invariably provoke a sense of dread among those who pass them every day. As many have already stated in their own way, the natural beauty of Ithaca has been hastily exchanged for chain-link reminders of death.
In the past few days, opinions concerning the significance of the new barriers have plastered on the pages of the Daily Sun and on the fences themselves. Some students have sought to turn the chain-link partitions into memorials by covering them in flowers, while others have sought to undermine the solemnity of the whole affair by attaching bras. The fences along the footbridge in Collegetown received a fresh coat of colorful paint last night and the fasteners on the suspension bridge fence have been repeatedly clipped.
Among the student body, ideas for changing the fences have run wild. In the short term, there is a strong desire to deface them, to cut them down, and to make them into something which they are not. In the long run, students are beginning to imagine viable (in some cases ironic) architectural solutions to the so-called ‘bridge problem’ at Cornell.
Dean of Students Kent Hubbell revealed his own feelings about the suicide fences in a recent email, stating frankly: “As an architect, I look forward to the day when we have much more pleasing, permanent approaches for enhancing safety while preserving the natural and man-made beauty of our campus.”
If the fences are to be re-designed, as the University suggests, what should they look like? How should they feel? What message should the convey?
Considering these questions, a few architecture friends and I decided to initiate a University-wide ideas competition to “Re-Think the Fence.” The goal of this project is to visualize the many ideas people have for the future of Cornell’s bridges and review them as an entire community. Perhaps, in doing so, we might develop a better understanding of what we want (and don’t want) our campus bridges to look like in the coming years.
To participate in the competition, submit at least one 8.5”X11” landscape image of your vision to firstname.lastname@example.org before April 16th. Additional details can be found on our Facebook page Re-Think the Fence.