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Xtreme LA Bison Bridge

Emerging Leaders Envision a Landscape Reborn

The creative repurposing of existing infrastructure presents a powerful opportunity for communities and ecosystems. Finding sustainable new life in what is deemed old and underutilized is the resource-conscious way to enhance communities’ health and wellbeing, create equitable access to nature, restore ecological services, and spur economic development.

These are the driving motivations behind the Bison Bridge project, the proposed repurposing of the Fred Schwengel Memorial Bridge that carries Interstate 80 traffic across the Mississippi River between LeClaire, Iowa and Rapids City, Illinois. Headed by the Illinois Department of Transportation, a study exploring replacement options for the bridge is currently underway. The Bison Bridge Foundation, however, proposes an innovative alternative—keep the bridge, serve the place.

On October 11 - 13, 2022, Landscape Forms and the Landscape Architecture Foundation sponsored their 11th Xtreme LA event, an intense design charrette that brought together leading young design professionals and landscape architecture students to collaboratively take on the challenge of programming the prospective Bison Bridge site.

"At Landscape Forms, we understand that while there are many activities that recognize people who are well into their careers, there are very few that recognize emerging and young professionals, so Xtreme LA is special for us,” says Landscape Forms Chief Innovation Officer, Kirt Martin. "Our role is to bring together promising young professionals and students, connect them with some of the country’s greatest firms, and challenge them to create something that they can give back to their community. And this Xtreme LA was no exception—participants thrived in seizing this extraordinary opportunity.”

Participants get a closer look at the bridge during a boat tour on the Mississippi River.

With an ambitious aim to provide unique new value to both people and landscapes, Xtreme LA 2022 challenged participants to find creative, innovative ways to transform the underutilized I-80 bridge and surrounding areas into a restored native ecosystem, a wildlife crossing, an outdoor recreation destination, and a potential new national park.

Event co-moderator and Principal at Lamar Johnson Collaborative, Lance McOlgan explains, "In terms of the design work, we asked the teams to organize around four general strategies: One is community, and the way this project can connect Illinois to Iowa, people to nature, and people to the river. Two is restoring native habitat and making built space natural again. Three is repurposing the existing infrastructure and the unique opportunity it provides. And four is the opportunity to create a new national park here on the Mississippi River,” he describes.

The fast-paced, 36-hour event was designed to foster creative thinking, enhance team building skills and facility of expression, offer valuable networking opportunities, and spark a larger discussion about a more sustainable and more equitable future for infrastructure policy on the whole. Participating in the challenge were nine young design professionals identified by their firms as potential leaders and twelve exceptional students from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s and Iowa State University’s landscape architecture programs. The group worked in two teams under the mentorship of two distinguished landscape architects: Chad Brintnall, Principal at SmithGroup, and Khyati Saraf, Senior Associate at Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.

Landscape architect students, emerging professionals, and leading design professionals develop solutions for the prospective Bison Bridge site.

After a very long day and late night of hard work and collaboration, the two teams presented their proposals to a full audience of local officials, interested citizens, peers and colleagues at The Figge Art Museum’s John Deere Auditorium in Davenport, Iowa.

"It was inspiring to see the ideas and design thinking that arose from the students and design team leaders over the course of just one intense day of collaboration,” says Lance McOlgan. "It’s important to remember that this was all unsolicited design work, and all who participated were volunteers who took time out of their busy work and school schedules to take part. I think it says a lot about our participants and a lot about the Bison Bridge concept that people from all over the county are this passionate and interested in seeing it become a reality.”

To see the culmination of Xtreme LA 2022 and learn more about the Bison Bridge initiative, you can watch a recording of the event’s final presentations broadcasted live from The Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa.

Landscape Forms would like to extend a big congratulations to all participants in Xtreme LA 2022, as well as a big thank you to all who were instrumental in making the event happen, including:

  • Lance McOlgan, Principal at Lamar Johnson Collaborative
  • Matt Maranzana, Principal at Lamar Johnson Collaborative
  • Chip Crawford, Managing Director at Lamar Johnson Collaborative
  • Chad Brintnall, Principal at SmithGroup
  • Khyati Saraf, Senior Associate at Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates
  • Chad Pregracke, Founder and President of Living Lands & Waters
  • Barbara Deutsch, Chief Executive Officer of the Landscape Architecture Foundation


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