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Rainbow arch could drape downtown

The Rio Nuevo Downtown revitalization project may include a "rainbow" bridge across Interstate 10 designed by World Trade Center memorial runner-up Rafael Viñoly Architects.
By Natasha Bhuyan
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, October 25, 2004
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Despite Arizona's drought, a rainbow could permanently hang over downtown Tucson if Rafael Viñoly has his way.

Rafael Viñoly Architects, an international award-winning firm, was hired by the UA last May to design the UA Science Center, a series of buildings part of the Rio Nuevo Downtown revitalization project.

Rio Nuevo, a $360 million project intended to expand and strengthen downtown Tucson, will include new shops, Tucson Origins Heritage Park, restaurants, office space, housing and Fox Tucson Theatre.

In addition, Rio Nuevo will also contain the new UA Science Center, a collaborative initiative between the UA and the City of Tucson, which involves the relocation of the Flandrau Science Center.

Since the center will span along a bridge across Interstate 10 and the Santa Cruz River, two designs were considered: One would spread building along the bridge while the other would selectively cluster the program in a winding path. In both instances, the bridge would be supported by pillars underneath.

However, Viñoly presented a new design idea at a Rio Nuevo update meeting Thursday night to a crowd of 150 community members.

Under Viñoly's new design, the UA Science Center would be built along a winding S-shaped bridge. Rather than being supported by pillars, the bridge would be supported by cables, which would come from a giant rainbow arch above.

Rob Vugteveen, director of marketing and outreach for the Flandrau Science Center, called the giant rainbow arch and 40-foot-high suspended bridge the most dramatic proposal but also the most popular.

Viñoly is no stranger to grandiose ideas. His proposal for the World Trade Center memorial came in second to Daniel Libeskind's winning design.

Greg Shelko, director of the Rio Nuevo project, said the city couldn't be happier that the UA selected such a well-respected, world-renowned firm.

With a design that barely touches the ground, Vugteveen said Viñoly considered the functions of the buildings to create a structure that makes sense for the Tucson community.

Shelko said the purpose of the update meeting, held at Tucson Convention Center, was to receive input from community members and examine how the new design would reflect Tucson.

"He's got a design that respects the environment, respects the Sonoran Desert and respects Tucson," Shelko said. "At the same time, it's very modern."

In a Flandrau press release, Viñoly said his rainbow arch idea was inspired by Rainbow Bridge National Monument in Utah, American Indian writings and the colors of the Sonoran Desert.

"In making it into a major recognizable icon, the new bridge will contribute to unify the city, celebrate its scientific and cultural achievements and transform Tucson into an international destination for tourists and businesses alike," Viñoly said.

Additional features at the UA Science Center, set to open in January 2008, will include a butterfly garden, an agriculture and life sciences park for education on genetic research on plants and animals, a medical research information center, a Unispherium for digital exploration of everything ranging from the inside of a cell to the outskirts of the universe, UA's Mineral Museum, and Southern Arizona's first IMAX theater.

Last September, the Arizona Board of Regents approved $73 million in funding for the UA Science Center. Rio Nuevo will contribute $20 million to the center from state and city sales tax revenues, while the Arizona Department of Transportation will fund construction renovations around I-10.

After the meeting, Vugteveen said he received positive feedback from community members regarding the rainbow arch proposal.

Although UA Science Center designs are in the preliminary stages, Vugteveen said, in future months, cost and feasibility will be examined.

"Something of this caliber will raise the profile (of Tucson) nationally and internationally," Vugteveen said. "It's definitely going to be an interesting ride."

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