An Anonymous Donor Is Bringing Light to the Mass. Ave. Bridge

A new project set for summer 2015 will make the structure stand out in the dark.

Image via Charles River Conservancy

Image via Charles River Conservancy

An anonymous donor has pledged to put down millions of dollars for a new project that will illuminate the span of the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge by installing special lights along its sidewalks and roadways, as well as the structure’s underbelly, where boats coast through along the Charles River.

“It will provide safe lighting for pedestrians and drivers, and the elements of design on the bridge will be pulled out and emphasized. It will become a really beautiful bridge,” said Renata von Tscharner, founder and president of the Charles River Conservancy, the non-profit group that will accept the donation to help bring light to the 2,165-foot overpass that connects Boston to Cambridge.

In an announcement this week, the Conservancy said that on September 16, they’ll host a 50 percent design meeting to present to the public the details of the proposed lighting upgrades and enhancements, which once installed will “augment the architectural aesthetics” of the bridge in a subtle way. The project, slated for next summer, includes plans to upgrade the existing lampposts that are currently installed on the bridge.

Von Tscharner said Miguel Rosales, of Rosales and Partners, a Boston-based firm, was picked from a pool of applicants to come up with the design concept for the lights project, a privately funded endeavor that has won the support of MassDOT, the agency that owns and operates the structure.

She said the project is estimated to cost around $2.5 million, and is being paid for in full by an anonymous donor.

“This is really a very generous gift, and will make such a difference. It will become a very impressive architectural monument in the city of Boston and Cambridge,” she said. “What’s so wonderful is to have a private donor be so generous to give that as a gift to the river and to the city. It’s really a wonderful thing that somebody wants to do that as a civic gesture.”

She said the Conservancy hopes to have the new lights installed along the bridge by next summer. “That’s the goal,” she said.

The idea to bring light to the Mass. Ave. Bridge—it’s official name is the Harvard Bridge—stems from illuminations that were previously installed in other overpasses that stretch across the Charles River and connect Cambridge to Boston.

Von Tscharner said in 2001, after two planes struck the Twin Towers in New York City, the Conservancy promoted a temporary illumination to “bring light into the city during a time of darkness.”

People enjoyed the lighting so much that from 2004 to 2008, as part of the annual Revels RiverSing celebrations, they began installing permanent illuminations on the Weeks Bridge, River Street Bridge, Anderson Bridge, and Western Avenue Bridge.

Some of those lights are now out due to ongoing construction as part of MassDOT’s Accelerated Bridge Program, but von Tscharner said updated versions with additional lighting on the underpasses would be installed once the work is complete.

In 2008, the conservancy teamed up with light designer John Powell, of Light Time in Space, Inc., and Luminus, Inc., a company that produces high-quality LED lights, to install colored fixtures underneath the Weeks Footbridge, which reflected off of the water and created an artistic design that danced on its arches.

A similar plan is in place for the Mass. Ave. Bridge. “[The lighting] is wonderful because it allows you to see the structure from a distance, and the bridge stands out from the water,” she said. “It will be an improvement to the existing infrastructure, and make the bridge more attractive.”

Below is an example of what one of the other bridges along the Charles River looks like when lit up at night. The Mass. Ave. bridge project would offer a similar illumination: