RADA Architects is one of 50 design teams featured in CAF’s latest exhibit, which challenged designers to identify a physical asset in the city that could benefit from a redesign and imagine a way to transition it “between states.”
Rada Doytcheva is the founder of RADA Architects. The firm has completed many socially responsible urban projects, including schools, colleges, hospitals, offices and residential complexes. For CAF’s new exhibit, “Between States”—opening Sept. 19—Rada proposed the construction of a new Illinois Medical District pedestrian bridge over the Eisenhower Expressway, between Ogden and Damen Avenues, to create a “handshake” between historically divided communities.
How would this bridge be different from other pedestrian bridges in Chicago?
A majority of Chicago’s pedestrian bridges built in the last decade are mostly utilitarian, allowing people a safer and faster crossing over busy traffic arteries. This is only one aspect of the IMD Pedestrian Bridge. More importantly, it allows for the continuous vitality of shops, cafes, gardens and meeting points as people move toward their destination. Creating more amenities for pedestrians in a safe and covered-from-the-elements bridge would replicate the downtown Pedway. In addition, the glass “cloud” towers hovering over the bridge will allow the area to be identified from a distance.
What existing pedestrian bridges are you drawing inspiration from, and why?
Architects are usually very interested in what others have done in history. I am not an exception. Ponte Vecchio in Florence is an inspiring example to follow. It is not only a functional structure for crossing the Arno River, but also a marketplace and a piazza. In my native Bulgaria, the well-known Covered Bridge in Lovech is populated with shops too. Other, more recent inspirations include the Zaragoza, Spain bridge pavilion designed by Zaha Hadid for Expo 2008 and Frank Gehry’s BP Pedestrian Bridge in Millennium Park.
What project have you enjoyed working on most in your career?
I have been fortunate to work on projects ranging from hospitals and academic buildings to offices and schools—in developed and disadvantaged areas. Nothing compares to the feeling of being able to create not just buildings or structures, but to alter the life of a neighborhood. The Clybourn Point Development on the fringes of Cabrini Green and the adaptive reuse of the abandoned Dodge school in Garfield Park were projects that gave hope and energy to their neighborhoods.
What is one project type you have not worked on yet, but would like to design?
I have not worked on larger scale city planning projects. Being educated in Europe, our vision of city planning comes through the architectural profession, which marries the large socio-economic aspects and quantitative needs with physical and qualitative changes in the environment. In the U.S., planners loosely define the parameters, architects then focus mostly on buildings. It is important to marry the issues of uses, program and scale with circulation, vistas, focal points, geometries, etc. I would like to be involved in city planning projects with the latter in mind.
How can architects improve the way they work with residents on community‐based projects?
Architects have the ingrained duty to improve people’s lives and not only to do monuments to themselves, as some people think. We are fully capable to lead, educate, collaborate, present and develop ideas and more when working with residents and communities. We are the natural profession to lead the way to a better future and to expose people to opportunities that have not been imagined or considered. It is in our hands, but most often, we are put in a position of spectator or executor. If government and institution leaders put us at the forefront of projects—over attorneys, money and business managers—the results will be enormous. The whole mindset of the city needs to change, to put architects in the frontline and empower them.