Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Joseph Passonneau Dead August 22, 2011

Joseph Passonneau- Renowned Architect
Defended St Louis Arch;
helped design I-70 freeway through Glenwood Canyon, CO;
but later let Washington, D.C. down

Died August 22, 2011 in a Washington DC nursing home, diagnosed 7 years ago with dementia- symbolizing his later years apostasy regarding urban freeway planning.

Attended Harvard on a scholarship, graduated 1942, entered Naval intelligence in the South Pacific.

Received job as chief architect for the Tennessee Valley Authority, and then a position at St Louis Washington University to teach part time, before being made Dean of that university’s School of Architecture.

Promoted the idea of the St Louis Arch.

Left St. Louis in 1967 for Chicago and later by the 1990s Washington, D.C.

Was involved with freeway design.

Designed the acclaimed I-70S Glenwood Canyon Colorado segment of tunnels and cantilevered motorways through environmentally sensitive narrow canyon. (I would have like to see him take that design approach to a 2x2ing of Washington, D.C.’s Canal Road past Georgetown University!)

Also designed the un-built Chicago Crosstown Expressway.

The highway was planned as a divided roadway, with northbound and southbound lanes separated by a strip ¼ to ½ mile in width. Generally, this highway would bracket a linear industrial belt. Continuous frontage roads would be located in the interior of this corridor so that the land between expressway halves would have much greater accessibility than land on the outside. In its clearest form, this could become an effective design, providing greater (and continuous) access to high intensity industrial uses within the corridor; and lower accessibility (and therefore protection from heavy traffic) for residential areas on each side.
The Chicago Crosstown was cancelled in 1979 as one of Mayor Jayne Byrne’s first acts, and more recently suggested to be revived in some form.

Passoneau had hence been prominent in freeway design rural and urban. You might not have known that from listening to him in his later years- particularly since the late 1990s when he was listed as a member of the “Committee of 100 on the Federal City”, and gave a number of presentations at Washington, D.C.'s National Building Museum.

It was during his years in Washington, D.C. that he finally went apostate.

As a start, contrast the words of this one time Chicago Crosstown Expressway designer, with these given in 2004:

Next up was Passonneau, who introduced himself by noting that as a career transportation planner, he'd worked on most of the major highway projects in the country. Widely recognized as an expert in his field, Passonneau wrote an article about the history of the Washington, D.C., highway system that appeared in a recent issue of National Geographic magazine. Highway activists in the audience, on hand to support a six-lane I-240, seemed to greet Passonneau's appearance at the lectern with an admiration that bordered on awe. Knowing his time was limited, Passonneau said he wanted to add just two things to Moule's presentation. "Traffic always damages the corridor it goes through," he declared. "And if citizens aren't involved from beginning to the end, the project will not be successful."
This was evident with Passonneau's August 2000 National Building Museum presentation as the man for presenting the future Undergrounded SE Freeway presented as a less expensive alternative to a future Underground SW-SE Freeway- never-mind the sheer implausibility of that as the two freeways currently connect in an elevated configuration (IOW- burying – lowering – covering the SE Freeway requires likewise for the connecting segment of the SW Freeway at least to 7th Street SW).

Passoneau’s proposal was done without any apparent engineering considerations for the connections between this proposal for a SE Freeway Tunnel that somehow met the existing elevated grade of the SW Freeway.

West Portal of Joseph Passoneau’s SE Freeway Tunnel Proposal

SE Freeway – existing; Passonneau ‘tunnel’ illustration simply a ‘photoshoped’ lid atop the existing elevated freeway

A lid atop the existing elevated SW/SE Freeway junction would raise the elevation of South Capitol Street to radically affect its relationship with the buildings to the south- eg. placing at least the 1st story of the buildings alongside South Capitol Street below street level.

Told me that he had not dived into that ‘can of worms’ after giving his presentation where he confessed that if he was “king of the world” that he would have simply removed the freeway without any underground replacement.

An architect of the Glenwood Canyon I-70 segment and the Chicago Crosstown would not be normally expected to embrace such an apostasy from grade separation, particularly the potentials feasible with existing right of way tunnels and more urban appropriate beneath a traffic circle underground helix, such as that which I developed with the Alexandria Orb.

Nor did I expect to hear his simple reply to my sending him a copy of the Orb upon asking him in person that it was simply “overly ambitious’ without a further syllable of explanation, this all after hearing him say publicly that we should be more ambitious and not risk being under ambitious.

Neither would I expect to hear his outright dismissal of any completion of the Washington D.C. system even by tunnel as “bizarre”- being obtuse about the distinctions between earlier and later urban freeway design.

Nor, likewise, his far more plausibly bizarre answer to me at a subsequent National Building Museum presentation, that the 1990s USNCPC Extending the Legacy South Capitol Mall would somehow “wreck the [existing National Mall]”

Passonneau 2000 NBM presentation slide show rendering of his proposal for South Capitol Street excluding the "Mall"/"Promenade" concept of Extending the Legacy

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