Greenville’s Liberty Bridge has won a slew of international awards and become an iconic symbol of the city.
But architect Miguel Rosales seems most proud of its effect on local romance.
“I get so many thank-you letters from people who got engaged on the bridge,” Rosales said, beaming as he spoke to a conference of artists and literary scholars in downtown Greenville.
“It’s very romantic.”
Although the footbridge is one of Greenville’s most prominent symbols, Rosales said he hoped the structure, built for $4.5 million in 2004, would not draw attention to itself.
“I wanted it to enhance the (Reedy River) waterfalls, not dominate the landscape,” Rosales said, speaking at a meeting of the Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present at the Hyatt Regency.
Rosales, of the Boston-based Rosales + Partners, made sure the footbridge’s cables would be extremely thin and that the structure would be nestled in the Falls Park trees, not soaring far above them, as some local residents had recommended.
“The cables (of the footbridge) almost disappear,” said Clemson University architecture Professor David Franco, who also spoke at the “Arts and the Public” conference, which started Thursday and extends until Sunday.
The image of the Liberty Bridge can found on everything from T-shirts and mugs to the tourism website VisitGreenvilleSC.com.
It also serves as the subject for countless artworks and the backdrop for Carolina Ballet Theatre’s annual production of “The Nutcracker.”
Clemson architecture Professor Peter Laurence, also speaking at the opening session of the ASAP conference, called the footbridge “a transformative work of art in Greenville’s civic architecture.”
Greenville Mayor Knox White recalled that many city residents voiced strong opposition to efforts to remove the earlier Camperdown Bridge that obscured the Reedy River waterfalls for more than 40 years.
“Most people had never even seen the waterfalls,” White said.
Urban waterfalls are a rarity and city leaders were determined to capitalize on that asset.
Rosales said big bridge projects, such as Liberty Bridge and Boston’s Zakim Bridge, often spark public protest before being widely embraced.
Among its many awards, the Liberty Bridge won the 2005 International Footbridge Award in the aesthetics category for medium span bridges.
The annual ASAP conference, which brought 300 artists and scholars from around the world to Greenville, focused especially on how public art and architecture impact a community.
White said city leaders have “absolutely filled downtown with public art” – from statues of historical figures to the whimsical bronze Mice on Main.
The goal of city leaders was to make downtown “interesting, fun and authentic.”
Central to that vision was making sure downtown Greenville was walkable and consisted of a mix of offices, retail stores, public spaces and public art.
White added, “If you want to have a place people love, it has got to have a personality.”
Public art has played a big role in providing that sense of personality, White said.
Laurence praised White and past leaders such as the late Max Heller for creating Greenville’s attractive downtown.
“Knox White was first elected in 1995, pledging to create one of the most beautiful and livable cities in the Southeast,” Laurence said. “He has kept that promise.”
The ASAP conference is being sponsored by Clemson’s College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities.