Bridge of Gardens

The concept for a bridge linking the two shopping centers of South Coast Plaza was a dream and necessity for the success of both sections of South Coast Plaza.  

Crystal Court opened in 1986 as an extension of South Coast Plaza, but did not meet original sales projections. A bridge, it was determined, would require a 600-foot pedestrian walkway across Bear Street that would stretch from the third floor of Crystal Court – renamed South Coast Plaza West – to the main plaza center, that would enable shoppers to visit both sections of the shopping complex without having to drive or wait for traffic to walk across the street.

Henry Segerstrom proposed this bridge but did not want it made of precast sections. He could easily have hired a construction company to build a simple bridge but instead he conducted an international search for a designer who would create a bridge in which the aesthetic and practical elements would be equally important. In the early 1990s, Henry attended an architectural conference at Stanford University where Peter Walker and a number of prominent landscape architects were speaking and learned of Katherine Gustafson and her work as a landscape architect. Gustafson had established her practice in Paris in 1980 and worked in collaboration with architects, artists, and engineers on varied projects.

Henry Segerstrom was highly impressed with Gustafson’s realized projects and concepts and made immediate contact with her to discuss the possibility of a commission to design a bridge and garden as the link between the two shopping centers. He had some very definite ideas of his own about what was needed. A sloping grass element outside one of the stores presented some air rights opportunities, so Segerstrom had the idea to include a sloping grass area and to literally raise it and make it into a platform on stilts that would create an open-air garden. He saw this concept as the perfect launch site for a bridge to Crystal Court.

“There were many skeptics. Some said people would not walk that distance, that we must have moving sidewalks, Others said that people won’t walk, we must have little electric carts to take people from one side to the other. In the last analysis, my feeling was that if the design were correct and if it were open air, and if it were attractive, people would use it. That hypothesis proved right in spades. It really works. Our customers love the Bridge of Gardens. It has won many architectural design awards.” — Henry T. Segerstrom

Additionally, Henry wanted a reinforced concrete poured-in-place bridge and fortunately, one of the nation’s largest bridge design firms was located in Orange County. Both Segerstrom and Gustafson agreed it would be a difficult project and many Segerstrom family members thought it was overly ambitious and that it would be unused. In fact, the opposite proved true. The walk across the bridge takes only ninety seconds from one end to the other. Only a few months after the public opening of the bridge and garden, the foot count was at 25,000 people a day.

According to the plan, the slightly curved bridge is made of galvanized steel and perforated stainless steel panels. Ranging from 17 to 19 feet in width, the walkway is planted with pink bougainvillea in planters that line the walkway and spill out onto steel wings extending along the length of the bridge. At the south end of the bridge, the walkway ends in an expanse of sandstone that delivers pedestrians to a half-acre Mediterranean garden bordered by a cascading waterfall. Access to the bridge is also available by an elevator encased in pale glue grass.

With a rain of confetti, a flock of circling doves, and dramatic brass band fanfare, the Bridge of Gardens was formally introduced to a VIP crowd at South Coast Plaza on Thursday, September 28, 2000.

Kathryn Gustafson was born in the state of Washington and was educated at the University of Washington in Seattle, the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, and the Ecole National Supérieure du Paysage in Versailles where she received her diploma in 1979. Kathryn Gustafson brings over 25 years of distinguished practice to her award-winning work that includes a widely known series of projects in France, and recently acclaimed projects throughout Europe, North America, and the Middle East. Gustafson’s design work has been predominantly civic, institutional, and corporate. Projects have ranged in scale from a tenth of an acre to 150 acres, including parks, gardens, and community spaces.

Kathryn Gustafson is a founding partner in her two offices, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, in Seattle, and Gustafson Porter, in London. Her diverse span of works is known as ground-breaking, contemporary designs that incorporate the sculptural, sensual qualities that are fundamental to the human experience of landscape.

Gustafson’s offices continue to evolve the design approach of landscapes into new contexts of time, culture, and nature. Kathryn Gustafson is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architecture and a medalist of the French Academy of Architecture. She is the recipient of the ASLA Design Medal, the Chrysler Design Award, London’s Jane Drew Prize and the Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize for Architecture 2012.

Gustafson completed works include Westergasfabriek Culture Park, in Amsterdam, Seattle City Hall Plaza, Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery, and Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain in London. Kathryn’s current projects include Bay East, Gardens By the Bay, in Singapore, Valencia’s Parque Central, and Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture, in Washington, DC.