The new pedestrian bridge at Villanova University is a practical solution that reflects the school’s rich architectural heritage. Connecting the university’s main campus to the residence hall communities, it offers an elevated walkway over busy Lancaster Avenue, giving students safe and easy access to their classes.
“Taking something that was a necessity and turning it into an asset was an added benefit for the architect,” says Erik Humes, senior project engineer for Macintosh Engineering. Harmony and consistency with the campus aesthetic were high priorities to both the university and the designers. Choosing precast concrete helped them efficiently and cost-effectively meet their aesthetic goals.
The versatility of precast concrete enabled the designers to provide arched openings, a limestone surface, and decorative elements to create a strong architectural connection between the bridge and the rest of the campus.
The design uses custom profiles to provide a sense of rhythm and scale. The architectural and exterior wall panels are unique pieces with minimal repetition, featuring limestone-like detailing that wraps from the front of the panel to the back.
The spandrels on the non-highway bridge portion have specially designed profiles with unique radii, while the spandrels on the highway bridge portion feature four similarly shaped panels with a lower radius profile. At the main span, which extends over Lancaster Avenue, the school’s crest and date of founding were imprinted with a custom formliner, branding the bridge to the school and providing a sense of arrival to those driving to the campus.
A central elevator pavilion was also built using precast concrete structural wall panels. “This part of the project relied on the integrally cast profiles to highlight the vaulted passageway providing access to the glass elevator,” Humes says.
Choosing precast concrete helped the team to meet tight schedule goals with minimal traffic disruption. The designers used Building Information Modeling (BIM) software during planning to avoid any potential errors on site. This made it easy to quickly spot changes that would have required updates if installed as planned, Humes says.
The campus was otherwise crowded with construction work, so the team wanted to limit the number of trades and equipment on the site. “The biggest challenge for the project was the portion spanning over Lancaster Avenue,” says Matt Krebs, project manager with High Concrete Group. “As this is the main roadway through the town, it could not be shut down during the day.”
Because precast concrete elements were used as an Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC) tactic for the main span, the shutdown of the state highway was limited to two evenings. “We worked overnight when there was limited traffic and were open again by rush hour,” Krebs says. The panels over the road had the fieldstone applied at the plant after the precast concrete set to further utilize ABC solutions and reduce road closure time.
"The result faithfully reproduces the university’s historic collegiate gothic aesthetic,” Hume says. “The bridge feels like a part of the campus it serves, while also serving as a gateway to those approaching from the nearby interstate.”