Home County Pride
As the Artist in Residence with the King County Bridge Unit, this is my first ever office job. While a lot happens out in the field as well as at my studio, time spent at my desk, in meetings and in cubicle conversation has contributed a large part to my project. These conversations primarily concern the design issues relevant to my project, but they also revealed to me how little I knew my home county in contrast to my colleagues’ intimate familiarity.
Take the time when Bridge Engineer Jamie O’Day said to me: “You should really head down to Enumclaw and look at 3042, 3043, and 3040A.” She was referring to three of the more than 300 bridges that County engineers inspect over the more than 2,000 square miles of King County. And what continues to amaze me is that they not only know all of the bridges by number, but also their design, age, general condition, what road they carry, which bodies of water they cross, and exactly how to get there from here.
In the beginning of my residency, I got to spend a lot of time riding along with County engineers as they showed me the highlights and current projects of the bridge inventory. I would pay close attention to where we were driving, but inevitably I would get disoriented in some part of the county unknown to me. The more I was shown around our county, the more I knew I didn’t know. So this summer, while working on the photographic element of my artwork, I took the opportunity to get to know more. (One of these days, I’ll write a blog post about what the actual artwork is going to be. For now, I’ll just tell you that the legs of my tripod are covered in muck from the creeks that short span bridges cross.) Instead of sticking only to the places that I had been introduced to as part of my immersion process, I spent a lot of time exploring the roads of King County on my own, usually by bicycle, on routes that I knew would cross the little creeks that I wanted to investigate.
I rode through the farm fields near Enumclaw, along Soos Creek near Renton, up in the foothills of Issaquah, down the Snoqualmie Valley, around Vashon Island, atop the Redmond plateau, and in the woods near Lake Joy. These personal, more intimate encounters with bridge contexts have brought me a little closer to that special connection the KC engineers have with the County.
Now I’m sure that this is not a groundbreaking discovery, but for those of you who know our county primarily by its major highways, I am here to tell you that we inhabit an extraordinary place that extends from Cascade peaks to Puget Sound, Crossroads market to Pike Place Market, old growth forest to farm pasture, and so on. The list is too long for a short blog post like this, leaving you with the opportunity to conduct your own exploration. I recommend picking a county park or trail to visit, taking the small roads to get there, and leaving time to stop or detour on the way. You won’t be disappointed.
Leo Berk has worked collaboratively with the King County Bridge Unit to understand the function and design possibilities of short span bridges. Having completed his initial research in the field and created design elements for small-scale bridges, he is now back at the office working towards a design manual for implementable projects.
(c) photos of short span bridges – over Soos Creek, Newaukum Creek and near Rutherford Slough – by Leo Berk.