“It’s the great irony of all American cities,” says Josh Shelton, a principal at the architecture firm El Dorado. “When interstates plowed through the middle of them, it didn’t make the downtowns more vibrant, it killed them.” Kansas City, Missouri, where El Dorado is located, was no exception. As the winner of a 2006 competition with local design studio MK12, the team had an opportunity to help remedy the local highway divide.
The scheme, Landscaped Edge, restores native Missouri vegetation—or at least an abstract facsimile of it—to a spot otherwise dominated by Interstate 670. El Dorado designed a modular guardrail for Wyandotte Bridge composed of alternating panels of laser-printed Plexiglas and stainless-steel mesh, while MK12 created the botanical imagery. Because each decorative panel has its own fluorescent light, the guardrail provides a safe walkway for pedestrians at night and offers engaging peeks at the urban scenery along the way.
Sponsored by the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the Downtown Council of Kansas City, the public-art project is a gateway between new developments in the business district—including the Convention Center ballroom expansion and the Sprint Center arena—and the Crossroads neighborhood, a bustling cultural hub. “A project like Landscaped Edge creates a handshake between downtown and grassroots investment,” Shelton says.
The bridge’s popularity since its March completion has both residents and the Missouri Department of Transportation looking forward to even more improvements, and El Dorado will play its part. Joining forces with another local artist, James Woodfill, the firm won the next phase of the competition to design enhancements to four additional bridges. “More people are moving into urban spaces,” Shelton says, “and it’s a novel idea that pedestrians will now occupy the city.”