Proposal Would Turn San Francisco Bridge into a City

The Bay Line, a proposal for modular housing and other structures bolted to the now-unused San Francisco Bay Bridge. Design by Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello

San Francisco's Bay Bridge is being redone; a large portion of the bridge will remain unused, but in good shape. What can city planners do with this unique, unused space?

Science fiction writer William Gibson thought about the Bay Bridge in his 1993 novel Virtual Light:

"[Chevette] looked up, just as she whipped between the first of the slabs, and the bridge seemed to look down at her, its eyes all torches and neon. She'd seen pictures of what it had looked like, before, when they drove cars back and forth on it all day, but she'd never quite believed them. The bridge was what it was, and somehow always had been. Refuge, weirdness, where she slept, home to many and all their dreams."

Local San Francisco architects Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello thought hard about the fate of the Bay Bridge, and hit upon the same idea as Gibson. If you take a close look at the abandoned side of the bridge (see photo), that span of the bridge is still very sturdy, and could easily bear the weight of buildings or other structures. Why dismantle and waste it when you could turn it into a unique neighborhood (see photo)?

Successful bridge neighborhoods have been built in Florence, Italy and in London, England. Why not here in the United States?

If you know where to look, science fictional ideas are becoming architectural reality. In Arena Salix in Germany, supple young willow branches are used to replace metal superstructures in creating a beautiful outdoor pavilion (see photo). In creating this structure, which changes with the seasons like a living tree, the designers were able to bring the work of science fiction writer Jack Vance in to being. In his 1954 novel The Houses of Iszm, Vance wrote about house trees that were grown to order.

"...[There were] houses with buttressed pods for the high-gravity worlds of Cleo 8 and Martinon's Fort, and loose complex houses with pods like balloons for Fei, where gravity was only half that of Iszm. There were trees comprised of a central columnar trunk and four vast leaves, arching out and over to the ground to form four domed halls illuminated by the pale green transmitted light."

Read more about the Bay Line proposal (pdf).

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(This Science Fiction in the News story used with permission of

Bill Christensen catalogues the inventions, technology and ideas of science fiction writers at his website, Technovelgy. He is a contributor to Live Science.