Awhile back I was listening to the podcast Hello Internet when to my delight, the subject of favorite bridges came up. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the hosts discuss their favorites, and based on the Twitter response to the episode, many other listeners did too.
For me, it raised the question - why do so many of us love bridges? Why the visceral response to the signature bridges of the world?
I’ve been asked many times why I like bridges and I’m generally a bit at a loss for words. I like bridges because…I love bridges! It’s just a gut-level fact. But when pressed to quantify my affection, I usually say that it’s because all the engineering is on display. The fundamental workings are right there for you to see, not hidden behind facades and bulkheads and aesthetic treatments as in our sister industry. If a bridge appears elegant, if it has “good bridginess,” I think it’s usually because the engineering itself is elegant.
I suspect there are also myriad intangible reasons for liking a particular bridge. The symbolism of connecting two disparate places. Memories of what we were doing and who we were with when we happened across a particular bridge. And surely each of us have a few special bridges where we recall the satisfaction of triumphing over design challenges.
In short, that podcast prompted me to create my own list of favorites (the only rule being that I had to have physically visited the bridge.) After racking my brain and whittling down my list I arrived at four favorite bridges.
Number 4. Lane Avenue Bridge - Columbus, Ohio, USA
This one I literally stumbled across while out for a long run with my best friend. It was the first time I encountered a cable-stayed bridge in the flesh, and I was infatuated. As a bonus, I was able to visualize the flow of forces and I'm always very excited when I can "read" a bridge.
Number 3. Multnomah Falls Bridge - Multnomah County, Oregon, USA
Try not to hold its association with the Twilight franchise against it. The Multnomah Falls bridge is elegance embodied, and it meshes with its environment in a way that definitely qualifies as "good bridginess". To heighten the pleasure of a visit, traverse the Historic Columbia River Highway (an engineering marvel in its own right) on your way to the bridge. You'll enjoy a leisurely drive dotted with waterfalls, sweeping vistas, and several other open spandrel concrete arch bridges.
Number 2. Auburn-Foresthill Bridge - Placer County, California, USA
Designed to accommodate a reservoir that never came to fruition, the Auburn-Foresthill bridge now soars 730 ft above the American River. It’s a special one for me because this seismic retrofit was the first major project I worked on. When I look at it, I’m immediately taken back to the camaraderie that came with grinding out 60 hour weeks, and the excitement of learning steel design.
Number 1. Millenium Bridge - London, England
It may be pedestrian of me, but I have a particular fondness for the Millennium bridge. It connects two place I enjoy - the Tate Modern and St. Paul's Cathedral. It recalls memories of my amazing study abroad trip to London. And while sometimes maligned, its "blade of light" aesthetic appeals to me, particularly when lit up at night. Finally and foremost, I love the story of its engineering. The snafu arising from the opening of the Wobbly Bridge was met with a focused "we can fix this" attitude. They researched, they tested, and they succeeded. (I also love that to generate randomized pedestrian vibrations for the final test of the retrofitted structure, a hoard of volunteers was told that free food was available at the other end of the bridge.)
For a great paper describing the retrofit, visit: http://taylordevices.com/papers/damper/damper.pdf