Several dozen spectators gathered at Cameron and Spring streets in downtown Silver Spring yesterday to watch construction workers hoist a pedestrian skybridge into place at the headquarters of pharmaceutical company United Therapeutics. Friend of JUTP/freelance photographer Chip Py and I were there to capture the scene.
CEO Dr. Martine Rothblatt founded United Therapeutics in 1996 to find a cure for her daughter, who was suffering from pulmonary arterial hypertension, a disease that creates difficulty in breathing. The publicly-held company, which has over 500 employees, licenses, markets and will eventually produce three drugs that improve blood flow around the heart.
The bridge will connect two of the three buildings in UniTher's headquarters, which was designed by Schick Goldstein Architects of Chevy Chase and first opened in 2006. Altogether, the nearly-finished $32 million complex contains UniTher's corporate offices, research labs, and production facilities, along with several currently unoccupied retail spaces and two pocket parks.
Montgomery County Planning Department.
The steel-frame bridge was delivered on Tuesday to Cameron Street on the back of a flatbed truck. Construction workers I talked to said they were originally going to spend the past week attaching glass panels to the bridge before raising it, but decided against doing so because of the added weight.
At 11am Sunday morning, the crew began preparing to lift the bridge as a crowd of about 40 people formed on both sides of temporary barriers placed around the construction site. People brought their children, set up tables and chairs, and raised their cameras high, forming the dorkiest tailgate party ever.
Those lucky enough to have a higher perspective of the action took advantage. A small group of United Therapeutics employees gathered on the roof of their headquarters, while residents of the Cameron, a recently-built apartment building across the street, watched from their balconies.
Not everyone was excited about the construction. Cameron Street has been closed to through traffic since Tuesday, and residents driving in or out of the Cameron's parking garage grumbled as a police officer moved barriers and traffic cones aside to let them pass. The street was shut down entirely while the bridge was being hoisted into place, and one resident who couldn't leave the garage angrily confronted a construction worker.
"It's Sunday, and people have to work!" she yelled. "This is unacceptable! Nobody told us it would be like this." A police officer intervened, trying to calm the woman down, but was persistent, demanding to have the name of everyone's supervisors as she walked back into her building.
After an hour, the bridge was almost in place. A few construction workers in a cherry picker assisted the crane operator, giving him specific directions to shift the bridge over a few inches at a time. When the bridge is exactly where it has to be, the crew will fasten it to each building.
As I've written before, the UniTher headquarters is a great addition to downtown Silver Spring. The complex will not only save lives and provide jobs, but it offers retail space for local businesses and two well-crafted public spaces for everyone to enjoy. On top of all that, the buildings just look cool. Hopefully, this project will encourage other companies locating in Montgomery County to follow suit.
Check out this slideshow of the bridge being lifted into place. Also, click here to see Chip's photos.