A Stroll Above the Freeway by Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe
Liz Larner has made sculpture out of a wide variety of materials and in every scale from tiny to really quite big, and now she's built a footbridge across Buena Vista Boulevard in Burbank. It was paid for out of the one percent of the architectural costs reserved for art, but despite that and although the bridge exhibits properties one finds in some of her sculptures, it makes more sense to see it as fulfilling an architectural program rather than as a giant sculpture.
Connecting the main Disney campus with an Aldo Rossi building that houses Disney's partner ABC, the bridge is covered but not entirely enclosed, so that one walks through it as much as on it. The bridge snakes across the boulevard rather than traversing it in a straight line, prolonging the view and making a break between the Rossi building and the Disney campus, which includes Michael Graves' headquarters building with the seven dwarves as caryatids.
Rossi's building is a big box, subdivided and decorated so as to ameliorate its Soviet-style massiveness, and the Disney campus doesn't start to get interesting either architecturally or in any other sense until one has traversed the parking lot onto which one is emptied by Larner's bridge, so that the effect is of a slender and mobile form joining the inert and the nondescript.
The bridge is made of painted steel and tinted glass, and supported by three columns that are angled slightly so as to underscore an idea of movement that joins the pedestrian, digressive speed of the bridge with the straight and fast, automotive speed of the traffic on Buena Vista Boulevard. Seen at night the bridge is a serpentine ribbon of lights suspended above the lights of thousands of cars, theirs blurred by speed and the bridge's by thick but translucent glass.
It curves gently out over but into one stream of traffic, and then repeats the same motion with regard to the traffic going the other way, thus becoming one of the few places in Los Angeles I know where the idea of walking is offered as a good idea. Something one might actually want to prolong.
As with some of her larger sculptures, the bridge is a structure in which attention is distributed throughout the surface, the steel and glass being cleverly scaled to the human. The impression is of economy, almost of a bridge made out of the smallest possible amount of ingredients, the detail satisfying because it is simple as well as elegant.
At the Rossi building end, a spiral staircase leads down to the street, a coiling movement which provides a counterpoint to the main movement of the bridge. As is also the case with some of her larger sculptures, Larner's bridge occupies the space by keeping one moving, and here she has found a way to pair visual movement with an architectural requirement.
It's a very sexy bridge, not only because of the glass and steel and serpentine motion, but also because its proportions combine the sociability of the hallway with the contemplative megalomania of the viewing platform. In another society we should expect to see it soon in a very stylish movie aimed at a more literate audience, as it is one would expect it to be compared with the San Diego-Santa Monica Freeways exchange, which is also much more graceful and groovy than any of the others, and was also designed by a woman.
When Larner has her mid-career retrospective at MOCA later this year, I hope those struck by her work will take the time to go to Burbank and see what she does when she turns her attention to being practical.
JEREMY GILBERT-ROLFE is a painter. His book Beauty and the Contemporary Sublime was published last year by Allworth Press in New York.