Piece by piece, massive steel girders and chunks of concrete are being carted off the old Bay Bridge that connects San Francisco to Oakland. If you drive by just feet away on the new span of the bridge, it’s hard to tell that the demolition is going on, though that will become more obvious later this spring when the bridge is sawed in half. Over three years, workers will take away over 50,000 tons of steel and nearly 250,000 tons of concrete.
What’s going to happen to all of that trash? While most of it will end up being shipped to China as scrap, one section could be turned into an unusual memorial: A local tech entrepreneur wants to recycle the steel and roadway into a new building with a museum, an Airbnb rental, and a private apartment.
David Grieshaber first had the idea while driving across the bridge more than a year ago. "I wondered what they were going to do with all this wonderful steel when they were done with it," he says. He called CalTrans, and after a couple of hours of being transferred to different departments, he finally learned that most of the steel would be sent to Asia.
"I was a little shocked, since it’s a National Historic Monument," he says. "This thing's been around for 78 years, and it's soon to be gone." He decided to try to save a piece of the bridge himself. Initially, he considered using some of the bridge to build his own home, but then decided to make the project more public.
An architecture contest last fall helped inform the final design, which unsurprisingly looks a little like a smaller version of the bridge. The floors will have the original pavement and lane markers, and the frame of the building will be made from the giant steel beams of the bridge. In all, it's the same amount of steel that would be used to build 1,600 cars.
The building was designed to be as green as possible. In addition to reusing materials, it will have solar panels, rainwater recycling, a green roof, and enough other features to earn LEED green building certification. It will also be financially self-sufficient, with Airbnb fees helping to keep it running through a nonprofit.
It hasn’t been an easy project, as Grieshaber and the dozen other volunteers working on the project have waded through bureaucracy trying to convince the right officials to make it possible. Just getting the old scraps from the bridge is difficult, and then there are the physical difficulties: Moving enormous pieces of steel through the city will be a challenge.
But Grieshaber is optimistic, and points to other successful projects that have also reused big chunks of infrastructure, like the Big Dig House in Boston. "They took road tiles from the Big Dig project in Boston and turned it into a beautiful house," he says. "It’s a perfect example of what we should be doing with our resources once they’re set aside for demolition."
The final location hasn’t been chosen yet, but the team hopes to find a site with a view of the new bridge.
"The big goal of this project is really to celebrate the bridge— to celebrate the people who worked there, who died there, and the companies that were involved with building and maintaining this thing," Grieshaber says. It should be preserved for future generations to enjoy, and not just in a park or a museum— it should be in a unique way that everyone can enjoy it."