Often taken for granted for simply bringing us from point A to B without getting our feet wet, bridge design is an overlooked but fascinating field of architecture. We picked a few unusual ones
A nondescript van speeds through the Slovakian December night, music pounding through the speakers. I disregard my face reflected in the window and raise my camera to take in the Bratislava lights. Excitement arises from the front seats and the words "UFO" and "alien" drift back to my ears. The surreal moment surmounts as the road-trip-quartet crashes their faces against glass to regard a view above the Danube, unbelievably alike to a Wells futuristic fantasy. The creature towering across the bridge and snaking its tentacles down into the mass of vehicular traffic doesn't seem fit to incinerate us, and we live another day to observe this creation in better light.
Called the Nový Most (originally: the Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising), this outerworldy looking construction was designed by architect J. Lacko and engineer A. Tesár between 1967 and 1972, officially opening on 26th of September. It is 431.8 metres long and 21 metres wide, the seventh largest cable-stayed bridge in the world. The steel bridge possesses two decks; two lower 3.5 metres wide ones for pedestrians and an upper deck for car traffic. But the uniqueness of the Nový Most arises from its single leaning A-shaped pylon construction, giving it the visual deception that the creation might either fly or walk. But far be it from socialist architecture to present only a visual stunner. At a height of 85 meters, the pylon holds an observation deck restaurant where you can sample a very elaborate menu including duck leg confit in Campari jelly, Atlantic halibut in a carrot sauce, or grilled guinea fowl with shallot risotto. A stairwell of 430 steps in one of the pylon arms gives you access to this sophisticated dining experience, as does the high-speed lift hidden within the other pylon arm.
This recent encounter led to some research, uncovering a plethora of impressive designs. Take, for example the only inhabited bridge in Spain: the Zaragoza Bridge Pavilion designed by Zaha Hadid Architects of London. It served as the entrance gateway for the Zaragoza Expo 2008, spanning 280 meters across the River Ebro and connecting the Delicias Intermodal Station to the Expo site. The organizational concept of the bridge is four "pods" performing as engineered infrastructure and architectural enclosures which are derived from a series of diamond-sections, extruded along curves. The architects explain that the stacked integration of these shapes optimize the entire structural system of the infrastructure while creating spatial differentiations as per the exhibition program. These are then connected by in-between buffer zones, keeping intact the spatial identity of each pod.
The shark-scale inspired skin of the Bridge Pavilion is a parametric membrane that generates internal-microclimates, conveying and directing air into the interior to cool visitors in the summer heat. But that is not the only performative attribute of the skin: with a simple system of rectilinear ridges, the conformability of the skin to complex curvatures create a stunning optic while the actual patterning results in aperture size differentiations for visitors within to enjoy varying degrees of natural light and views of the Expo and the water.
However, not all bridges are required to fly over water since the Oxford Dictionary defines the noun as "a structure carrying a road, path, railway, etc. across a river, road, or other obstacle." It's not the Red Sea but architecture group RO&AD recently parted a moat in Halsteren, the Netherlands, with their Moses Bridge to provide access to the historical 17th century Fort de Roovere. In response to the site's new recreational function and the need for an access bridge, RO&AD claim "it is, of course, highly improper to build bridges across the moats of defense works." Their solution - an invisible bridge! From afar, the structure disappears, minimally expressing itself as a singular line through the landscape because the ground and water come all the way up to the bridge's trench-like edge. As you approach, you realize it's ingenious existence in the site.
The magic behind the Moses Bridge construction stems from the choice to use Accsys Technologies, the creators of "wood without compromise." Accoya wood is a 100% recyclable and structurally strengthened wood that is based on acetylation, a process where "the ability of the wood to absorb water is greatly reduced, rendering the wood dimensionally stable and, because it is no longer digestible, extremely durable." Its chemical composition also turns it unrecognizable to fungal decay. This rendered Accoya wood as the optimal choice in serving as Moses at the Red Sea - holding the waters at bay and allowing visitors to pass through the body of water dry.
These bridges are of course three out of uncountable prodigious bridges, each with their own characteristics, histories, and stories. If you are interested, check out these ones as well:
• The Mycenaean Arkadiko Bridge in Greece, of limestone boulder construction, spans a comparatively pathetic 22 meters. Except it dates back to roughly 1300 B.C., meaning it's over 3000 years old and still in regular use, so maybe hold back the sneer.
• Tour guides on the Saint Lawrence River claim, though this is up to some debate, the 32 feet long bridge on Zavikon Island is the world's Shortest International Bridge, connecting a US island to a Canadian one.
• In June of last year, China opened the Jiaozhou Bay Bridge running 42.5 kilometres over water, the longest in the world. For now, that is.
• The Grand Canyon West Rim now boasts a glass-floored "Skywalk" structure extending in a horse-shoe form 70 meters off the edge of the canyon wall, bridging your dares with empty air 4,000 feet above the canyon valley.
Additional information to the images above:
photo 4 and 5 © Fernando Guerra: www.ultimasreportagens.com
photo 6 © Luke Hayes: www.lukehayes.com