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Miguel Rosales, A.I.A.
Architect

Who Builds Big? | Career Info Index | Engineering Webography

Miguel Rosales has more than 14 years of experience in urban design and bridge architecture. He was the lead architect and urban designer on Boston's Charles River Bridge, and is currently the lead architect on several major U.S. bridge projects. Miguel is a principal and senior designer with Rosales Gottemoeller & Associates, a transportation architecture and engineering firm based in Boston, Massachusetts, and Columbia, Maryland.

Check out a bridge that Miguel worked on: Charles River Bridge, Boston, Massahcusetts

Miguel Rosales, A.I.A Architect
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You're an architect who works on bridge design. What projects are you working on right now?
Right now, I'm working on several bridges across the United States. One of them is in St. Louis, and it's a major crossing of the Mississippi River. I'm also working on a bridge in Washington, D.C., crossing the Potomac River. It's called the Woodrow Wilson Bridge -- that's another quite important bridge in the U.S. I'm also working on several smaller bridges.

Miguel Rosales, A.I.A Architect
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What exactly do you do as an architect working on bridge design?
I have a lot of background in engineering, for one thing. I don't really have a traditional architectural background. I'm able to work a lot more closely with engineers on the structures because I have that knowledge. When I start to work on a project, I first work on the concept of how the structure is going to be in context and what type of structure is going to be selected. I work on the main idea. I also work with community groups to get their ideas of how they see the bridge fitting in their community.

For example, in St. Louis, they wanted to make the new bridge a very prominent part of the neighborhood where it's going to cross because it's a depressed area. They want to use the bridge as a catalyst for redevelopment. So I interact with them on that.

And once we have come to a conceptual design, then the structural drawings are completed by an engineering company that does most of the construction detailing.

Do you make the preliminary drawings?
Yes, I make models and perspectives and preliminary drawings. But my company's not big enough to do the whole thing, because these projects are really very big. The Woodrow Wilson Bridge is a $600 million crossing, and the one is St. Louis is $300 million. You need to have a very large staff to do that.

I also work on the architectural detailing in the final design phases. For example, the lighting is often very important because a lot of bridges want to be featured at night. So I work on the aesthetic lighting, how they are going to be lit. I also work on a lot of the more architectural type of details, like railings and signage. More and more people want to have these type of details in bridges.

Before, bridges used to be very standardized. You just take a standard from a book and apply it, and nobody really thinks if it's appropriate or if it's going to match the structure or not. And nowadays, there is this idea of trying to make it more comprehensive, with a style and kind of a family shape, so the whole system comes together. So then you have to do special detailing for the bridges; I get involved in that. And then the construction starts, and I review the drawings. Usually the term of involvement is many years.

How long does it take on average from beginning concept to completion?
The Charles River Bridge crossing in Boston, I started working on that in about 1989 to 1990, and now it's being completed next year. So it took 10 years. The Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Washington, D.C., we have been working on that one since 1993, and it's not going to be completed until 2006. The bridge in St. Louis is just beginning right now, and that one's completion date is 2010. So, again, 10 years. I would say it takes about a decade to do a major crossing.

When you're coming up with an initial concept for a bridge, what are the things that you're looking for?
I'm very interested in how a bridge fits in its context. Especially when it's a major crossing, it should reflect what is there, and it should relate to something that is part of the landscape, of the architecture, or some other feature that makes it fit.

The other aspect I'm very interested in is the proportions and the cultural value of the structure. And that is very important to me. That's why I make a lot of 3-D drawings and models and computer drawings, to try to really see how the bridge is going to appear when it's built.

And that's one thing that a lot of engineers have difficulty imagining, because they are not trained in three dimensions. A lot of their work is only in plans and sections and elevations. Some people, I think, don't understand that bridges can be attractive and well proportioned. They are used to seeing so much ugliness everywhere.

If you travel between here and California by car, 90 percent of the bridges are unattractive. So people cannot imagine that they can be good-looking. It's kind of hard to understand that. But there are choices to be made, and you just have to think about those considerations. That's something that I try to introduce into the design, in addition to resolving the functional and structural requirements of the crossing.

Do you actually meet with community members? Do you hold public meetings or that sort of thing?
Yes, definitely. That's part of all the projects. And I would say some of my success happens because the community members relate well to my work, and they insist that somebody like me is involved in the projects. I think if it was just left to the transportation departments to make a decision, it would not be the same, because considerable pressure to improve the appearance of structures is coming from the communities, not really from the Department of Transportation. I think they are interested, but if the community didn't push for it, it would probably not happen.

What do you like most about your work?
I come from a background that, when I was growing up, there was nobody really in my community or where I was born who could have any influence on infrastructure at all. The way I was educated was that the government makes all the decisions and we just have to accept it.

Where are you from originally?
I was born in Guatemala. It's a very small country, and the population does not really have any role in deciding anything that relates to government projects. And I find it very interesting here that communities have a role. So I like working with the community; that gives me a lot of satisfaction, because it's like a model for democracy. They are paying for it, and it's coming from the taxes. And it's an enormous amount of money, you know, millions and millions of dollars. So I think they deserve to be listened to, and I like being part of that process.

So that's one aspect. The other aspect I like is that whatever I do is going to last hundreds of years. I mean, the bridge here in Boston is supposed to last 150 years. And that's a long time. So I feel like if I am able to make a difference or make a change, it will be a lasting project, and it will be there for a long, long time. And it can either be a big asset or it can be a big problem. And if I can be part of making it a big asset, I get a lot of satisfaction out of that.

A bridge lasts a long time, especially if it's well designed. People will want to preserve it. And that's something that is definitely a trend in the U.S. Like all the unsightly bridges, bridges that people don't care about, they demolish them right away. A problem comes or they need to repair it, it's more easy to demolish. But when a bridge is very attractive and people are attached to it, they keep it. They keep repairing it; they keep preserving it. So I think that's telling about what kind of importance a bridge can have in a city or a community.

I asked you before what you liked most about your work. I'm wondering what you like least about it.
Being the owner of the company, I have to do a lot of business-related tasks, and I don't enjoy that completely. I think I would rather just be working on the design or the ideas. But if you are the owner, you cannot really do that. You have to deal with the other side of the company, the business.

Sometimes it's hard because the projects last a long time; it's not an immediate reward. And you have to be patient, so sometimes it gets frustrating, because you think that you've got to a point and then you stop or it's changed again or you have to bring another group into the formula to try to make a solution. So I would say that sometimes it's difficult because of the long-term commitment. Sometimes I see friends of mine that are architects go and do an interior, and then in six months, it's finished.

You have to wait much longer.
Yes, I have to wait. And so many things can go wrong; so many things can happen. They can run out of money, or there can be a problem. It is kind of a miracle when it's finished.

When did you know you wanted to be an architect, and how did you get into that field?
I studied it in college. When I was in middle school and during high school, I had a lot of interest in art. That was one of my best classes. I don't know. It was kind of by elimination. I didn't really want to be a lawyer or a doctor. I thought I was pretty good in mathematics. I thought that would be helpful. I really didn't want to be a scientist either; I didn't want to study biology or chemistry. And I thought becoming a designer would be a good type of job.

To me, it was very important to have a result. I always wanted to have some result at the end of the day of what I was doing. And bridges are so important. Going in that direction, I thought, was very good for me.

What advice would you have for a young person who wants to pursue a career in architecture or engineering?
I would say you have to be committed to it and be interested in doing something like that. I think it's important to try to have some self-confidence in whatever you're going to do. It's going to be there, and you're going to be able to live with it. Be prepared to take responsibility for your work, because once it's built, you can't really go back.

I'm also interested in helping people make their life better. And I believe that whatever I try to do is related to that. If you're interested in people, improving their life in some way, I think that would be helpful, too.


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