leo berk, bridge unit artist-in-residence, blogs

What we build says a lot about who we are. 4Culture’s Public Art Program has a strong history of managing projects with County partners, projects designed to reveal the expressive potential and the civic gesture embodied in our infrastructure. 4Culture has commissioned artists to serve as members of design teams that work on monumental, signature bridges around King County, for example. Recently, 4Culture awarded Leo Saul Berk an artist residency with the Bridge Unit of the King County Department of Transportation – an opportunity to focus on the design potential of small-scale bridges.

Working collaboratively with Bridge Unit staff, Leo is tasked with designing a kit of parts composed of design elements – artful railings, barriers, and the like – that can be incorporated in the County’s small-scale bridges. As part of the Bridge Unit’s efficiency strategies, which include replacing a series of small-scale bridges in geographic bundles, Leo’s kit of parts will be documented in a design manual for use in various configurations over many years and on many bridges – a great opportunity for artistic impact across space and time. Leo’s artwork will contribute to design efficiencies while adding an artist’s perspective to the creation of a distinctive and recognizable experience within King County’s network of roads and bridges.

Long fascinated with engineering, structure and environment in his studio, Leo is currently in the research phase of this project. As a featured guest blogger, Leo will periodically give us an inside look into his process.


Leo Berk

Friday November 13, 2009

If you’ve driven around King County in the last 5 months, there’s a good chance you drove right over me. I’m in the research phase of my project and have been underneath, as well as above and beside, many of the county’s inventory of bridges with a variety of Bridge Unit personnel. I’ve been soaking up all the different perspectives—environmental, design, engineering, historical, maintenance—that I can about the many different kinds of bridges in the many different settings that we have here. Last week, for example, King County Bridge Unit engineer Jesse Jose took me out into the remote forest in eastern King County to visit the site where the Sunday Creek Bridge is being rebuilt by the County, using funding from a federal grant. Environmental engineer Ron Melnikoff also joined us on the trip so that he could observe all of the environmental codes are being met concerning the creek during construction. The bright red trusses delivered to the site from the Ohio fabricator were being busily assembled by the construction crew. Six pieces assembled into two trusses will be set into place by a 100-ton crane, and span the creek. I am consistently impressed that all of this major construction occurs over a pristine creek with a leave-no-trace mandate intended to preserve our natural resources.


It’s a challenging project to design elements for these very tiny bridges, but I’m inspired by their rural settings and the effort that goes into designing and building them. When my research phase ends, I will begin designing artwork to be incorporated into a manual for short span bridges that are being rebuilt over the next 19 years.

Stay tuned for Leo’s updates reflecting back and projecting forward on his process and progress.

© Leo Berk by Margo Christianson
© Sunday Creek Bridge by Leo Berk