Miguel Rosales: Building a better bridge

Anyone to ever gaze upon the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge knows the indelible imprint that architect Miguel Rosales has left on the City of Boston.

A native of Guatemala, Rosales came to the Greater Boston area in 1985 to pursue a Master of Science in Architectural Studies from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He earned his degree two years later and was recruited to work on the area north of Causeway Street and the Charles River crossing as part of the Central Artery/Tunnel Project, otherwise known as the “Big Dig.”

By the early ‘90s, the Big Dig had come under public scrutiny in light of skyrocketing costs, scheduling delays and other setbacks, and in a bid to win back public support for the project, acting state Secretary of Transportation Frederick Salvucci opted to build an aesthetically pleasing bridge across the river.

Rosales was handpicked to work on a Big Dig project task force, which included, among others, renowned Swiss engineer Christian Menn, and soon shifted his attention to bridge design.  By 1992, Rosales was named lead architect for the bridge, and he continued to spearhead the project for the rest of the decade.

“For a long time, we weren’t sure what kind of bridge could cross the Charles because of clearance issues and the challenge of getting traffic into the [Ted Williams] tunnel,” Rosales said.

Rosales began looking at the possibility of building a cable-supported bridge with tall towers – a decision that would eventually help transform the once gritty area around the sports arena then known as the Boston Garden into a vibrant city neighborhood.

“Because there had never been a bridge like that in New England, it gave a new identity to the area, which had been abandoned in a way,” Rosales said. “To have a beautiful bridge you could see from far away gave it a new image.”

In 1997, Rosales founded Rosales + Partners Transportation Design, a Newbury Street-based firm that “specializes in the conceptual engineering and architecture of bridges, highway corridors, interchanges, streetscape elements and other transportation facilities,” according to the company Web site.

Besides the Zakim Bridge, the firm’s portfolio includes some of the most noteworthy bridges in the U.S. and beyond, including the Liberty Bridge in Greenville, S.C., a curved pedestrian structure integrated into the landscape that offers views of the Reedy River waterfalls below; the new Puente Centenario, a record long-span bridge over the Panama Canal; and the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge in Washington, D.C., a moveable vehicular bridge that spans the Potomac River, carries Interstate 95 and is considered one of the capital’s national monuments.

“We tried to integrate a drawbridge into the design, so when you see it from a distance, you can’t tell where it is,” Rosales said of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge’s seamless design.

Today, Rosales is overseeing the designs of several local, non-vehicular bridges, including the Wonderland Pedestrian Bridge in Revere, an elegant cable-stayed bridge that will connect Wonderland Blue Line MBTA station to Revere Beach; the Leverett Circle Pedestrian Bridge, a circular pedestrian bridge that would cross the traffic circle adjacent to the Museum of Science and the West End/Science Park Green Line MBTA station; and the Boston Esplanade Bridge, a new bicycle and pedestrian arch structure proposed as part of the master plan to restore the Longfellow Bridge.

“MassDOT is bringing in another team of engineers and architects to complete the final design drawings,” Rosales said of the Esplanade Bridge, “but we’ll continue to see the project through.”

Rosales is also the lead architect for the restoration and rehabilitation of the 106-year-old Longfellow Bridge.

As for his approach to bridge design, Rosales emphasizes, above all else, the necessity of garnering community support for the projects and the importance of linking the structures to their locales.

“Every bridge is different,” Rosales said. “Every bridge design is in response to the context and surroundings, so that it fits well. If you make a special design, the city adopts the bridge and it becomes part of its culture and image.”

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