For another week, brave visitors will be able to walk from the Italian town of Sulzano to two tiny islands using a temporary pier made from 200,000 cubes of high-density polyethylene. The 53 foot wide fabric-covered path is tethered to the lake bed but has no guardrail – it’s just your feet, the water, and a gently undulating quilted sidewalk.
Christo, the artist behind it all, is probably best known for the fancy drapes he installed in Central Park, also in the same orange colour. He’s also executed dozens of similar projects which, until recently, were collaborations with his late wife and partner Jeanne-Claude. In recent years, his attempts to accessorize the natural landscape have been met with criticism. For example, a recent proposal to stretch six miles of fabric over the Arkansas River in Colorado was halted due to litigation from environmentalists.
The Floating Piers is different, though. It’s not just a frilly skirt wrapped around an island which you might only admire from your jet. This is in fact a major advancement in pedestrian infrastructure, and one that could easily be adopted for cities in a climate-changing world. Imagine the potential of deploying this type of temporary bridge after a disaster, allowing a city isolated by the destruction of a bridge to be reconnected to the mainland. Plus, as the pathways don’t end at the water’s edge but through onto local streets, it could also be a model for the way coastal cities integrate emergency routes for tsunamis and storm surges – all in a perfect shade of traffic-cone orange. It’s useful art.