Local architecture firm creates fantastical vision for connecting downtown to the waterfront

Lpa Sacramentoriverfront V01 Aerial
All renderings courtesy of LPA
Architecture firm LPA has rendered a pedestrian bridge that would connect downtown with Old Sacramento Waterfront, and a riverfront amphitheater that could provide seating for aquatic concerts.

In his State of Downtown address back in January, Mayor Darrell Steinberg voiced his desire to help transform the city’s waterfront into the destination that we've always wanted it to be. “It’s time to stop imagining and to start doing,” he said. That notion resonated with the creative team at the local office of architecture firm LPA which had already been mulling over such questions, and the firm has answered with some big, creative ideas—including bold (and they say entirely doable) plans for an amphitheater and a pedestrian bridge that could alter downtown’s landscape, extending the energy of the central city’s renaissance to the Old Sacramento Waterfront.

LPA turned loose its team in a purely speculative interoffice exercise in which designers at the firm (based in Irvine) examined the question: “How do we reengage the city to downtown and the riverfront?” Ideas were floated, drawings were made, and the team conjured some extraordinary renderings that show potential paths to a more vibrant downtown. 

Then, in October, the City of Sacramento’s Economic Development Department announced the Waterfront Ideas Makers Program—“an initiative to develop original design concepts that boldly reimagine the historic district and its riverfront location"—and released a request for qualifications (or RFQ) from design firms. From those that applied, the city will select up to five firms to create concepts “that enhance the area’s historic ambiance, aesthetic appeal, visitor experience and connectivity to the City.” 

With detailed plans already in place, LPA submitted its application. (Eleven other firms also applied by the deadline yesterday.)

The renderings that the firm submitted include a pedestrian bridge that would begin at the second level of Downtown Commons (DoCo), traverse over I-5 and “touch lightly on the Old Sacramento side” so as not to impact the historical nature of the district, according to landscape architect Andrew Wickham. 

The bridge concept features some elements reminiscent of New York City’s High Line, with pathways set among park-like foliage and shade trees, and others that are more architecturally assertive and iconic, like a soaring, asymmetrical steel suspension system that resembles a space-age harp (and reminds us not a little of Calatrava’s Sundial Bridge upstream in Redding). A path set above I-5 would also provide views of the city, a far cry from the tunnel under the freeway that currently connects DoCo to the Old Sacramento Waterfront.

Once pedestrians enter the historic district from the skybridge, they would continue down K Street toward the amphitheater, which would feature ample seating for spectators facing the river. (K Street currently ends at the Delta King, which architect and practice director Julian Watt speculates could theoretically be moved to a nearby spot to make room for the amphitheater.)

The amphitheater puts the river itself front and center, with stone terraces leading down to the water’s edge, where instead of a permanent stage, the river itself would be the featured performer. On sunny days, office workers and weekend picnickers could take in the views of paddlers and boaters plying the waters (Watt and Wickham envision the amphitheater allowing access to the river, perhaps via kayak or paddleboat rentals). And for special events, barges might serve as dramatic free-floating performance spaces complete with light and sound systems for concerts, or pontoons could be used as launching platforms for fireworks displays. 

LPA is hoping to build on the momentum of downtown’s resurgence and help create a vibrant opportunity for locals and out-of-towners to better connect with the river.

“If we could go over I-5 and continue that connection,” says Wickham, “the bookend to that corridor would be the river, and how wonderful would that be to have opportunities to interact or engage with the water?”

Watt, a New Zealander who came to Sacramento nearly a year ago, is amazed that the city hasn’t taken advantage of its waterfront space.

“You have a lot of points in Sacramento, but they aren’t connected,” he says. “One of those spots is the waterfront. It’s completely underutilized. Coming from other cities that I’ve lived in that have invested in civic projects like this and [created] access to the waterfront, it’s life-changing. It changes a place from somewhere no one goes to, to one where suddenly every lunchtime there are people on the waterfront, rain or shine.”

Watt says that while LPA’s initial ideas are ambitious and elements may need to be adjusted due to budget and the direction that the city chooses, he hopes that his firm can show what’s possible. “It’s a fantastic city,” he says. “It’s prime time for Sacramento.”

The city will announce the selected firms on Dec. 10.

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