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Fairleigh Dickinson University Pedestrian Bridge

Spanning more than 200 feet across the Hackensack River, The Fairleigh Dickinson University Spirit Bridge connects FDU's campus while supporting its academic goals and commitment to stewardship of the Hackensack River.

As the largest private college in New Jersey, the University wanted this critical infrastructure to define and differentiate the campus, and help shift the culture at what has historically been a commuter school. The Landscape Architect's solution, which features covered seating, public spaces, and native plantings, has strengthened the University's sense of place and increased pedestrian activity and other healthy behaviors.

The Landscape Architect led a multidisciplinary team of designers and engineers to create the softly winding footbridge, which replaces a failing concrete-and-chain link pathway. Because the new bridge is built on an existing pier structure, the design had to accommodate specific weight and width restrictions. To maximize plantable areas, the Landscape Architect used a specially designed lightweight soil matrix and drainage system that reduces the weight added by the plantings, and employed hanging planters to provide additional vegetation outside the railing. The tiered landscaping feels like an extension of the adjacent river banks, with Creek Sedge and other ground covers, colorful shrubs like Bush Honeysuckle, and small trees such as the Tiger Eye Sumac, whose sculptural branches complement the bridge's form. The Landscape Architect selected the plants for their year-round visual interest, their suitability to the shallow soils, full sun, and windy conditions of the bridge microclimate, and their ability to restore the riverine ecosystem by attracting native birds, insects, and turtles. The team similarly chose materials for their lightness, durability, and sustainability, including recycled teak sourced from a program that protects elephants in the Republic of Myanmar. To assist with ongoing maintenance, access to electrical and irrigation systems are conveniently and discreetly embedded into the furnishings.

Designed to meet the needs of today and tomorrow, the bridge will become increasingly vital--and visible--as FDU grows, with a prominent new hotel and student center planned for nearby sites in Hackensack. As a central piece of the Landscape Architect's larger Eco-park master plan, it is restoring the historic river landscape, changing the perception of the campus, and helping to make the school more competitive by improving application and retention rates. In other words, the Spirit Bridge doesn't just connect the campus; it connects FDU's past, present, and future.

(Professional Photographs © Sahar Coston-Hardy)

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