Functional Art: Hilton Overhead Walkway

Functional Art: Hilton Overhead Walkway

September 5, 2019

In 2014, the Hilton Hotel at Neches and East 4th Streets in downtown Austin was facing a common problem—increased competition from newer properties. As part of a two-year modernization project, Gensler and Walter P Moore were tasked with creating a functional work of art that would serve as the “gateway to Austin” for those arriving in downtown via rail. This $7.5 million overhead walkway provides a seamless and safer alternative for guests to move from the convention center to the Hilton versus crossing at street-level over light rail tracks. 

Kileigh Shea, an Associate Engineer with Walter P Moore's Structures Group in Austin, partnered with Modern Steel Construction to tell the story behind this innovative floating walkway. 

"On any given day, the streets of downtown Austin are busy, energetic, and filled with pedestrians ranging from out-of-town vacationers or conference attendees, to local business people and university students. This vibrant street life adds to the character of Austin, and the city council’s long-standing perception of sky bridges is that they detract from the pedestrian experience and lead visitors away from streetscape and the city itself. This perception is why only a handful of sky bridges exist in the city today—and also why the Hilton Overhead Walkway initially faced intense opposition.

With this in mind, the design team and the general contractor committed to a design that more resembled a sculptural art installation rather than a traditional pedestrian bridge. The completely open-air walkway was an unconventional shape, incorporated skyline views and was open to the public to invite non-conference attendees and non-hotel guests to experience the Austin skyline from 50 ft above street level. The team also highlighted the safety factor. Without a bridge, conference attendees cross a busy multi-modal street that includes heavy car, pedestrian, and bike traffic, as well as the outdoor main station for the MetroRail, Austin’s commuter train line, which has long term plans to add additional train lines to this stop.

A bridge design that acknowledges Austin’s artistic roots and connects people to the city rather than secluding them from it, paired with the obvious need for safety provisions, led to the project’s approval."

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