Emily Ashby, Architecture, parametric, design, harvard, gsd

The James as Multi-Modal Cultural Landscape

The city of Richmond is at the juncture of two critical geographical features – the geologic fall line and the James River. These preconditions, as well as cultural ideals and events, shaped the development of Richmond. The perceptions of the James can be tracked through art depicting the river. These perceptions range and transition from themes such as utility, productive potential, pastoral landscape, picturesque, leisure, pollution, and danger or risk. Furthermore, the James transitions from a river that is traveled through, to a river that is traveled over or even around.

The locations of these means of transportation over the James, including bridges and dams, are sited for a variety of reasons. Reasons include point-to-point important connections (such as to the Capitol Building), line-to-line connections (extensions of important avenues or streets), region-to-region connections (such as to downtown centers), topographic logics (connecting to islands or between high points) and directional logics (connecting to larger highway networks). These potential site influences are part-analysis and part-conjecture.

The bias, or conclusions, are implied through the interpretive mapping technique which highlights certain topographic connections, green spaces, the changing water line throughout the 20th century, and important roadways. As all of the current bridges were either built in the 20th century or reconstructed in the 20th century (many times due to flooding), the mapping is limited to this time frame. I propose that in cases of reconstruction, the ideal depictions of previous bridges likely informed a mindset and design proposal that manifests in the current bridges and their perceptions.

Sectional studies are utilized as a tool of comparing scalar and spatial properties of the various bridges. The Mayo’s Bridge is the shortest bridge, only reaching 30 feet above the waterline, and leaving it susceptible to flooding. The purpose of the bridges range from a railroad bridge to a six-lane highway. Furthermore, these bridges connect between parks, dense, urban areas, and residential neighborhoods. The implications of these connections is left for interpretation.


“Welcome to the USGS – U.S. Geological Survey.” Welcome to the USGS – U.S. Geological Survey. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 May 2014.

Kelly, James C., and William M. S Rasmussen. The Virginia Landscape : a Cultural History. Charlottesville, Va.: Howell, 2000.


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