Davenport's Skybridge is meant to be spectacular. Waves of color from 8,036 LED lights race the length of its 575-foot corridor at night. Brightly lit masts and tension rods angle upward and out, towering 100 feet over the River Drive traffic below.
The bridge's most successful feature, however, is its outstanding panoramic view of the river and the surrounding cityscape.
This view is largely unimpeded. The floor-to-ceiling glass walls are slanted inward toward the base in the corridor, like windows in an airport control tower to minimize distracting reflections. The bridge's support structure is overhead, mostly out of the line of sight when looking out. As its architect, James Baird of the Chicago firm Holabird & Root, stated in a 2005 Chicago Tribune article: "It's an observation tower on its side." Baird also acknowledged in the same article that the real purpose of the Skybridge is "to create a viewing platform, a place to see the river, the bridges, even the eagles that migrate along the Mississippi."
Like many of Holabird & Root's most significant buildings - including landmark "Chicago School" and Art Deco skyscrapers - the Skybridge is stylistically modern. And like many modernistic buildings, it is imposing and impersonal. Its glass exterior and exposed structure of steel beams and sheet metal create a stripped-down environment that is hard to warm to. Its walkway feels something like an extended corridor in an airport terminal. Yet the kaleidoscopic lighting effects that fill the walkway after dark are fun -creating a gaudy, festive pathway for visitors heading for riverfront events or the casino in the evening.
One enters the Skybridge through the five-story glass towers at either end of the bridge; the north entrance is in the River Music Experience courtyard on Second Street and the south entrance is near the Rhythm City Casino. On the top floor is an enclosed platform for viewing the city to the north and an open observation deck facing the river to the south. Whether taking the elevator or the stairs, there is a delight in climbing upward and reaching the top story to look down on the surrounding cityscape.
The Skybridge was completed in 2005 - near the dawn of a new millennium - and it is a physical embodiment of the time it was planned and built. One can feel the desire to move forward in the Skybridge, and even its name is ambitious.
Yet its aspirations are too many - to be an identity for the city, a symbol of progress, an impressive landmark, a fun travel destination, a viewing platform, and a pedestrian bridge to the riverfront. It was also designed to relate to the appearance of the Figge Art Museum, which was completed the same year. It feels compromised - even conflicted - by its many goals. It is not large enough to be a significant landmark, for example, but it's too large to be an efficient means for pedestrians to cross from downtown to the riverfront.
Bruce Walters is a professor of art at Western Illinois University.
This is part of an occasional series on the history of public art in the Quad Cities. If there's a piece of public art that you'd like to learn more about, e-mail the location and a brief description to BD-Walters@wiu.edu.