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Metalworks - bridge


The popularity of the bridge as an architectural idiom continues apace, so much so that this is the second MetalWorks on the subject in three years.

Interestingly, while the contents may be different, the protagonists remain the same (in at least two cases), which suggests the emergence of a discrete bridge-design hegemony.

The bridge as an architectural construct does seem to be counter-intuitive - bridges are, after all, primarily a structural problem concerning the crossing of some form of obstacle. The problem is therefore a) how far must the bridge span? and b) how much does the thing travelling on the bridge weigh?

Having established these basics, the engineer adds complexities (to numerophobics like me seemingly perverse) such as: can the bridge be supported elsewhere along its length, or will it be single span?

Should it be an arch or a suspension bridge? Is there a really strong wind in these parts? (That might have been a question asked by the designers of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Except it wasn't. ) The answer to the question; how will it look? has always been subject to the engineering solution, at least as a basis - which should make bridges a prime contender for the 'most honest form of construction' gong in the 'Virtuous Buildings Awards'.

Given the fertile ground for expression, not to mention the obvious opportunities for visibility and use, it is strange that the involvement of architects in pure bridge building is considered a comparatively recent phenomenon. It is true that the high watermark of bridge building, at least in the British Isles, was very much the domain of the engineer. Brunel, Stephenson and Telford bestrode the engineering landscape, and no one else got a look in (or a bridge over). But the primary architectural expression in bridges is often credited much later, to Santiago Calatrava, another engineer, albeit of a different tradition - which opened the doors for others to follow.

In fact, the first architectural input into a bridge was on the first iron structure over the Severn, at Coalbrookdale. Thomas Farnolls Pritchard contrived to make Ironbridge and its reflection form a perfect circle. Obviously someone asked him 'How should it look?' first.

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