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Juror spotlight: a conversation with Gary Hilderbrand, Principal at Reed Hilderbrand and Northern Avenue Bridge Ideas Competition Juror

Apr 13, 2016

Gary Hilderbrand is a Founding Principal of Reed Hilderbrand. A committed practitioner, teacher, critic, and writer, Gary is Professor in Practice at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where he has taught since 1990. His honors include Harvard University’s Charles Eliot Traveling Fellowship, the Rome Prize in Landscape Architecture, the Architectural League’s Emerging Voices Award with Douglas Reed, and the 2013 ASLA Firm of the Year award.
Through three widely acclaimed books and two dozen essays, Hilderbrand has helped to position landscape architecture’s role in reconciling intellectual and cultural traditions with contemporary forces of urbanization and change.

In this interview, he speaks with Gina Physic, Digital Media Specialist at the Boston Redevelopment Authority, about his role in the Northern Avenue Bridge Ideas Competition, his advice for those entering the competition, and what he’s most looking forward to.

Gina Physic (GP): What do you hope to bring to the Northern Ave. Bridge Ideas Competition jury? Any unique insights, ideas, etc.?
Gary Hilderbrand (GH): Well, I’d say the jury is very broad-based and there are a few people who devote their professional time to design, and I’m one of them. I hope to bring a sense of balance that rests the doubt of the many, many, issues that are brought to bear and make a change in something that’s already significant in the city… and design is, you know, for me design is the top thing.
GP: What advice would you give to those entering the Northern Ave. Bridge Ideas Competition?
GH: That’s hard. I’m not sure what to expect, in truth. I hope to see a great range of ideas, but I also hope to see things that resonate with the powerful way that the Northern Ave. Bridge has been iconic for the city. That means that it has to have something to do with the industrial character of the city there, but also it has to inspire, it has to be reflective of our time. It even has to forecast something about the future of our attitude towards mobility and transportation and place-making in this part of the city.
GP: Are there other bridges with similar histories that you'd like to see serve as inspiration or a reference point for the future of the Northern Ave. Bridge?
GH: Well, I don’t want to bias it in that direction at all. The thing that’s been on my mind is a question I think is an interesting one to ponder, which is that in some cities, particularly in European cities, when a bridge like this is no longer viable, a facsimile of it would be made there in the same place. And for many cultures it would be the easy call, in a sense. Hard lift in terms of the cost, but the easy call to replace it in kind. It seems the decision here is moving towards one that doesn’t [simply replace what was there] and in that case I think that there are probably many precedents. I don’t want to suggest, though, that I have a favorite or something that I’m looking for. I want to bring a very open mind to this, and I don’t think I want to prejudice the competitors in any way.
GP: In your opinion, what would constitute a win for the Northern Ave. Bridge's future? Not necessarily a winning project, but for example, an idea that had community support, a future for the bridge that ensured it would be a destination for years to come.
GH: I’m intrigued by the idea that the bridge could be not only a passage but also a destination. I would hope to see things that transcend the need for crossing and see them become something else. I’m enthusiastic about seeing what those possibilities are.
GP: What are you most looking forward to regarding the Northern Ave. Bridge Ideas Competition?
GH: Well, I like the diversity of the group that’s been assembled to judge this. I also like that this is a kind of first round... It’s wide-ranging and I think it’s very wise that people are encouraged to submit solutions of all kinds, including written solutions. This, I think, is expansive and really opens up the possibilities of what this crossing can be. This seems like a very intelligent approach to me. That’s why it was very easy for me to say that I’d help.
GP: As a juror, what is the most important thing to consider in choosing Northern Ave. Bridge competition winners?
GH: Imagination. I’m looking for imaginative and maybe even breathtaking solutions. I think this is a time to be expansive and imagine something that we couldn’t have imagined there.

For more information on the competition and other members of the competition jury, please visit, and be sure to join the conversation on Twitter using #NorthernAveContest!

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