Monday, October 10, 2016

Bringing a Little of Paris to Petty

Do you know of a prominent UNC Greensboro campus structure that incorporates features from a Parisian landmark into its overall design and function? Any ideas? Hint—think of a structure that connects to College Avenue. Still not sure? Take a look at the ninety-five foot bridge that links the Petty Building with the College Avenue pedestrian walkway. The bridge, completed in 2007, is a replica of the Pont des Arts that spans the Seine River in Paris.


Design for 2007 Bridge
The Petty Building (known at the time as the Science Building) was opened to students in 1940. Facing a growth in programs and students, this Public Works Administration-funded building was designed to meet the needs of the College’s Chemistry, Biology, and Physics departments. The building also contained dark rooms for the Photography Department and x-ray equipment for the X-Ray Department, as well as space for animals that were used in experiments. A wing was added to the original structure in 1952. In 1960, the building was named in honor of Mary Petty head of the Chemistry Department from 1893 to 1934.


Science Building, ca. 1959


In 2006, UNC Greensboro embarked on a $15.4 million dollar renovation project of the Petty Building. The primary focus of the project was to renovate the building’s electrical, plumbing, and mechanical systems. Besides upgrading key systems, the project also sought to convert the science building to classrooms and offices for the departments of Physics and Astronomy, Mathematics and Statistics, and Computer Science.


During the planning phase of the project, members of UNCG’s Facilities, Design, and Construction Department and architect Jody Peer (Jenkins-Peer Architects) considered different options to improve access to the nearly 70 year old building. The design team struggled with the fact that the building stands ten feet below the road grade of College Avenue. Additionally, access to the building’s main entrance required walking up one of the two matching curved staircases. The planner’s dilemma was how to maintain the original neo-Classical features of the building while providing special needs access for students, faculty, and visitors. During one of the design team’s brain-storming sessions, Jody Peer showed the group a photo that he had taken of a pedestrian bridge that he had seen in Paris. After a review of some sketches, the design team embraced this creative and visually striking solution.

Pont des Arts

Between World War One and World War Two, the University experienced a massive building boom. A great deal of the expansion occurred along College Avenue and Spring Garden Street. By the late 1930s, space along College Avenue was filling up with dorms, administrative offices, and classrooms. One of the remaining open spaces was the school’s athletic fields, which were designed for both the College and the Curry Training (Practice School). The actual playing fields were surrounded by earthen berms that served as open air seating. Visitors could sit and view student teams compete against each other. After selecting this space for the new science building, the College inexplicably decided not to raise the overall level of the building site to meet College Avenue. While other school building were built at the level of College Avenue, this building’s first floor would be constructed well below the level of the roadway. As a result, students were forced to walk down a flight of stairs from College Avenue to access this new building.

During the fall 2007 term, workers prepared the ground for the new bridge that would connect College Avenue and the renovated Petty Building. Huge steel tresses to support the bridge’s walkway were lifted into place by a crane. Unlike its Parisian cousin, the “deck” of the UNC Greensboro bridge would not be made of wood, but instead it would be constructed of translucent glazed glass bricks. Below the walkway, lights were installed pointing up towards the under-belly of the bridge. At night, these lights shine up towards the glass pathway and create a wondrous glow.
You might be wondering why a nineteenth-century French bridge was selected over other bridge designs. It seems to have been driven by functionality and elegance of design. The Pont des Arts was the first metal bridge to be installed in Paris. This 1804 pedestrian bridge links the Institut de France and the Palais du Louvre. Unlike the heavy Paris stone bridges that span the Seine River, this metal bridge exudes a lightness and simplicity. For many visitors to the city, it is a quiet sanctuary from the bustle of traffic and a wonderful spot for expansive views of the city. Interestingly, around the time of the installation of the UNC Greensboro bridge in 2007, Parisians began to see tourists attaching padlocks to the railings and side grates of the Pont des Arts and throwing the lock’s key into the river. The locks had the names of each couple written or engraved on them. This new “tradition” was to represent a couple’s committed love. By 2015, the city of Paris citing safety concerns began to remove the estimated one million locks from the bridge.


Locks Attached to the Pont des Arts

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