Stretched bow-backed over the Mt’k’vari River, Michele De Lucchi’s Bridge of Peace is a statement work – a modernist showpiece for Tbilisi, Georgia. Yet, for many, the design is the latest betrayal of the city’s 19th-century aesthetic.
The impression given by the bridge is modern and technological – space-age, even. As its steel and glass canopy moves from west to east, it undulates along the horizontal plane as a mathematical sinusoid – a smooth shape stretching over the Mt’k’vari. Studded throughout its framework – and designed by Philippe Martinaud – white LEDs come on 90 minutes before sunset, while Morse code light-translations of the chemical elements that make up the human body scroll across the bridge’s parapets: calcium, hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus. An all-modern salute to the scientific age.
The project forms part of Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili’s wider “grands travaux” campaign – an effort to attract foreign investment and shed any lingering Soviet-era associations. De Lucchi has also designed the presidential palace – a neo-classicist structure subverted by an ovoid glass dome – and the interior ministry, a building dominated by a glass facade that peels off like puckered celluloid. The use of glass is symbolic and makes a hopeful statement for a transparent and forward-looking Georgia.
Yet both the Bridge of Peace and the grands travaux have met with criticism, much of which has focused on the appropriateness of a modernist bridge for the historic Old Tbilisi quarter. Orientalism, Russian neo-classicism and European art nouveau are the design currency of Tbilisi, and some fear De Lucchi’s rolling bridge is simply too dominant and alien a presence in a district characterised by low houses, sulphur baths and carved, wooden balconies.
Modernisation is inevitable, but perhaps De Lucchi has led Tbilisi a little too far into the future.