Robert Barella ’14

The Northern Avenue Bridge in Boston’s Fort Point Channel is a deteriorating hulk of steel that closed two years ago due to safety concerns. But alumnus Robert Barella wants to bring the bridge back to life—turning it into a park with live performances and floating islands. The concept earned him the top prize in the Northern Avenue Bridge Ideas competition.

“It’s a real honor to win this award,” Robert said. “I’m fresh out of school and was competing against professional teams of engineers and architects.”

Although many of the contest proposals were unusual—a “vertical farm” and ferris wheel were two suggestions—Robert’s design was probably one of the more ambitious projects proposed.

His plan calls for a park with terraces to the water’s edge, floating islands, stages for performances, a museum, and paths for pedestrians and bicyclists. Cars would not be allowed.  “I wanted to explore the potential for the bridge—and the entire space,” he said. “It’s such an iconic structure.”

Robert jumped at the opportunity to submit a design to the contest, and he spent about a month on his entry. His main goal was to save the bridge, which he calls an “architectural marvel.”

As a student, Robert worked intensely on projects involving waterways, coastal issues, and community parks, which provided him with the skills to tackle the bridge design. “Studying at URI gave me an understanding of our coastal issues and how they relate to cities,” he said. “I also learned about the importance of preserving historic structures and protecting the environment. My bridge design reflects everything I learned at URI.”