Calatrava’s Sundial Bridge Was Spawned by Salmon

December 16, 2016

Spawned by the need to protect a seemingly insignificant patch of gravel, not many folks know that Redding’s iconic Sundial Bridge rose as a result of an eco-challenge surmountable only by architect Santiago Calatrava’s sensitive and innovative expertise.

Abandoned since the long-gone days of mining in Redding, California, submerged quarry beds along the north shore of the Sacramento River have historically served as spawning grounds for Chinook salmon. Four endangered runs form a 300-mile upriver stretch ultimately guiding an annual salmon marathon to this exact location for laying their eggs and breeding.

Chinook salmon swimming upstream. Credit: Wikipedia commons

Developed in the 1990’s on the site of this humble gravel quarry, the 200-acre McConnell Arboretum and Gardens helped drive a typical California cowboy town into the high-styling world of modern art and architecture.

A Major Engineering Challenge Rises Before the Bridge

As the beautifully developed Turtle Bay Exploration Park rose across the river from the arboretum and gardens, a plan arose to link the two popular attractions by a pedestrian bridge spanning the Sacramento River.

Following years of political wrangling and indecision, the City of Redding finally raised $3 million to pay for the proposed pedestrian bridge.

Focusing on the natural history of the Sacramento River, Turtle Bay Exploration Park immediately raised alarms concerning probable damage to the historical and highly vulnerable salmon breeding grounds. Fortunately, these concerns were heeded and a formal set of eco-friendly engineering criteria for the proposed bridge was duly adopted by the city.

The most challenging environmental requirement stated that the bridge could have no part of its structure in the river. Nothing even temporarily could disturb the river at any point in its construction.

This proved to be a major engineering challenge for local bridge builders. And, when the city-appointed committee was unable to secure a satisfactory bridge designer capable of meeting the challenge, the plan eventually stalled.

World-Renowned Architectural Engineer Santiago Calatrava Rises to the Challenge

McConnell Foundation Vice President John Mancasola, a member of the bridge committee, suggested enlisting world-renowned architect Santiago Calatrava. It was an expensive suggestion, ultimately costing the private McConnell Foundation over $20 million.

Nevertheless, with great visionary confidence, Mancasola phoned the famous Spanish architect at his headquarters in Zürich, Switzerland.

This was in 1996, and Calatrava had not yet graced American soil with his iconic style and architectural genius.