Will Coldwell, The Guardian, March 3, 2014
With its heavy steel girders and rugged geometry, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay bridge has always been an iconic part of the San Francisco Bay area. Now, as the eastern span of 76-year-old structure faces demolition following the opening of a new suspension bridge that runs alongside it, a project has been launched to recycle the scrap metal to create a house and community space that will include an Airbnb apartment for visitors.
The Bay Bridge House Project, which is the brainchild of local tech entrepreneur David Grieshaber, aims to preserve the memory of the bridge for residents and visitors. "The whole project is a celebration of the bridge, everyone who worked on it, died on it and the organisations that run it," says Grieshaber. "It's a monument and a memorial all built into one."
The eastern section of the bridge – the largest cantilever bridge of its time – opened in 1936 and closed to traffic last year. The demolition process is expected to take two years. Grieshaber originally planned to get scrap from the bridge to build a house for himself but it quickly turned into a more ambitious scheme.
"I've always wanted to build a house," says Grieshaber. "But then it grew into a project to make a big, 100% eco-sustainable building. We added in the Airbnb idea, meaning you can stay in the old bridge and look at the new one, and decided to add 11,000 square feet of multi-use space that anyone can hire or use. On the inside there will be an augmented reality overlay on the glass windows so you can visualise how the bridge used to be."
For Grieshaber, the idea to use Airbnb to rent out the visitor apartment fitted with his plan to draw on local resources and expertise. "Airbnb is a San Francisco-based company," he says. "It was logical to utilise its service and have it involved. Architects and travellers looking for a unique place to stay will find this very intriguing."
Negotiating with the organisations that own the bridge, however, has been a "bureaucratic nightmare". "We're in the process of trying to tie-up the land, and are in talks with the organisation that owns and manages the bridge," says Grieshaber. "There are some contamination issues that had to be rectified – it's coated in lead paint – but we've found solutions we're going to present to them."
Grieshaber is not the only person trying to reclaim scrap from the bridge for creative projects: the number of requests to the organisation that manages the bridge has even led it to include the question: "I'd like a piece of the original East Span. How can I get one?" in the FAQ on its site. However, the official line is that it's not possible.
Karen Cusolito, from Oakland-based artist community American Steel Studios, has also been lobbying for the vintage steel to be used for "the creation of public art and civic installations, such as bus shelters, park benches, municipal lighting and hundreds of other applications for all to enjoy." The Bay Bridge Steel campaign's website, which Cusolito set up, calls on San Franciscans to send letters to the agencies managing the demolition of the bridge.
But Grieshaber, who hopes to live with his wife in the "caretaker's facility" of the Bay Bridge House as custodians of the building, is adamant that the plan will go ahead. He hopes it could be completed within the next two years and that it will last for centuries. "Until the scrap gets shipped off to Asia I'm not stopping trying," he says. "Even then, I might just go to Asia and get it there."
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk