Bridge: The Architecture of Connection
By Lucy Blakstad. August/ Birkhauser, 2002. 192pp. £22
Every few months another engineer decries the increasingly high-profile involvement of architects in bridge design, and argues that it should be left to engineers alone, since bridge design is pure engineering, writes Ruth Slavid .
This book gives the lie to that argument. Grown out of a series of three television documentaries by Blakstad, it is about the meaning of bridges and their relationship with people. Blakstad and her contributors do not ignore the wonder of the engineering but they look just as much at emotion, at significance, and at the changes that bridges can bring both to the constitution of cities and to individual lives.
Built round the themes of birth, life and death, the book focuses chiefly on three bridges: the nascent Millennium Bridge in London, the enduringly important Brooklyn Bridge, and the Old Bridge at Mostar, built during the Ottoman Empire and tragically destroyed in the wars of former Yugoslavia (see picture). But it takes in a lot of others - the excitement of climbing along the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the bitter significance of the Bridge over the River Kwai, and the flawed excitement of Rotterdam's Erasmus Bridge. Voices range from the homeless sleeping under London's bridges to a policeman who has deterred many of New York's suicides.
Two of the major subjects of the book acquired unexpected resonance during the author's researches: the Millennium Bridge developed its infamous wobble; people fled across Brooklyn Bridge as the World Trade Center was destroyed.
But, unsurprisingly, the most moving section is on Mostar, where even the author is amazed to find just how much the bridge meant to people. By the time of its destruction, Muslims in the city had already suffered expulsion, rape and murder, yet one of Blakstad's interviewees said: 'I cried when my husband died and I cried when my children were killed in the war, but the day I cried the most was the day that the Old Bridge came down.'
This book is not profound and its televisual origins are obvious. It can be trite but it has some fantastic images and some moments of enlightenment. And it makes it abundantly clear that although a great bridge must incorporate great engineering, engineering is only one element in the significance of a bridge.