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A world-renowned bridge architect -- whose cable-stayed structure across the Charles River solved a civic crisis in Boston as contentious as the Peace Bridge dispute here -- has agreed to come to Buffalo and offer ideas for a new span across the Niagara River, officials said Thursday.

Swiss bridge architect Christian Menn will visit the week of Feb. 26.

During his stay, the Peace Bridge Authority is likely to name him its premier design consultant. He will consult with the firms hired to design and build a new Peace Bridge, an official said.

Most of his life's work is in his native country of Switzerland.

Menn designed two of the 10 bridges nominated by experts as the most beautiful bridges built during the 20th century, according to a leading trade journal publication. Both bridges are in Switzerland.

He's also left quite an impression in Boston for his design of the Charles River Bridge.

In November, Gov. Paul Cellucci stood on the nearly finished deck of the 10-lane span -- under sweeping white cables of what will be the world's widest cable-stayed bridge -- and thanked the bridge architect by proclaiming the day Christian Menn Day in Massachusetts, according to the Boston Globe.

Such a day in Buffalo could be a decade away.

But local leaders heralded Menn's entry into the Peace Bridge project as a major breakthrough.

"Phenomenal," said Mayor Anthony M. Masiello. "This is big league."

He called Menn's hiring proof that the Peace Bridge Authority and municipal leaders on both sides of the border "want to do this right and do it in a big way."

"From what I understand, he is considered the dean worldwide of bridge architects and, in my opinion, it's quite a coup for this community to have somebody of his stature to consult on this project," said authority Chairman Victor A. Martucci.

Martucci and Masiello said they're familiar with how Menn, in the early 1990s, solved a big problem with the massive Central Artery/Ted Williams Tunnel project in Boston.

Community opposition prompted the state to drop what The Boston Globe described as "a complex and unsightly 18-lane design for the river crossing."

In 1992, after giving a lecture about new bridge design at Harvard University, Menn was asked for his ideas on the Charles River crossing.

Menn's task was to design a bridge to fit tightly between an old double-deck Interstate 93 bridge and an underwater tunnel.

"What won the day was Menn's idea for configuring the cables out of the way of obstructions and using white sheaths to recall an image of Boston's sailing heritage," the Globe reported.

"He put architectural form and engineering function into one," Cellucci told the Boston newspaper.

The bridge, Cellucci added, "will quickly become the signature of this city, if not of the entire Commonwealth."

Menn, who could not be reached to comment, has told The Globe that engineering considerations dictated the physical characteristics of the Charles River Bridge, but that aesthetics were important, too.

"Such a beautiful city should have a gateway," Menn said on the day he was honored by the Massachusetts governor.

Although some critics preferred tunnels rather than bridges linking Boston and Cambridge, Mass., the cable-stayed structure has drawn mostly praise in Boston, the paper said.

Community acceptance

Clearly, local officials hope he can bring the same success here.

Martucci regularly travels to Boston on business and has seen the new bridge, which will replace a deteriorating six-lane double-decker bridge when it opens in 2002.

"It's really hard to get a good view of it now because it's in a tight location, tucked in behind the Fleet Center," he said.

What Martucci has seen in Boston is community acceptance -- something that has been out of reach here since the binational authority approved and later abandoned a plan to build a three-lane companion bridge between Buffalo and Fort Erie.

"What Christian Menn did there was come in during the controversy over what was going to be built and was able to combine function and aesthetics where everybody was happy at the end of the day," Martucci said.

"What the state had planned was completely uninspired, and the community demanded something more visionary than just a highway viaduct crossing the river," said Bill Banas, chairman of the New Millennium Group's Peace Bridge Action Group, which had campaigned against the authority's previous twin-span plan.

"Then they came up with this (current) plan," Banas said. "If he can come in here and do the same thing, that would be a huge positive."

The project manager for the Peace Bridge project's environmental review said it can happen.

"I'm optimistic that when we get people of the caliber of Christian Menn on this project, that we're going to enhance our chances of being successful," said Vincent P. Lamb of Parsons Transportation Group.

Lamb invited Menn to work on the project.

The authority still intends to hire a bridge design firm among other consultants it plans to employ by month's end.

"We're going through the procurement for that because we need somebody for the nuts and bolts work necessary to be done," Lamb said. "Menn, at this stage of his career, is more into developing concepts."

The authority will ask Menn to come with his own ideas, and those ideas will be passed along to other designers for more detailed development, Lamb said.

At the same time, the other designers will be asked for their concepts, and Menn will be asked to review and critique their ideas.

"Collaboration is what we're looking for," Lamb said.

Designer already started

Menn's cable-stayed design in Boston does not necessarily mean he will suggest such a design for a new Peace Bridge, Lamb said.

Lamb said he has sent Menn maps, studies and photographs of the area, and the designer has already begun to work on the project.

Lamb said he thinks the challenge before Menn has begun to sink in.

"He sees it as a complex problem," Lamb said. "He realizes now the problem isn't just the bridge, but the plazas."

Still, it should not take years to find a solution, he said.

"My own view is it's not going to take too long after he sees the site personally," Lamb said.

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