Architecture David J. Brown Bridges

ISBN 13: 9780025174559

Bridges

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9780025174559: Bridges

Gloriously illustrated with dozens of color photographs, working diagrams, and blueprints, Bridges celebrates the extraordinary artistic and engineering achievement that went into the building of more than 100 great bridges throughout the world.

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About the Author:

David J. Brown is an author, editor and librarian. He is the author of How They Were Built, a children's book of architecture.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction

You will probably walk, drive, or be driven across at least one bridge today. So what? Isn't that all they are there for? Just to get "A" (you, other people, cars, trucks, trains, even boats and planes) from "B" across "C" to "D" as quickly and as easily as possible? Unlike a house, office, concert-hall, or hospital, bridges don't have to accommodate complex, developing, long-term human activities, needs, and services; people don't generally live, work, get entertained, or become cured in bridges. The better a bridge is at doing its job, the more transitory, literally, is your experience of it.

But is that all there is to the subject? If it is, this book wouldn't need to have been written. Although the first question to be asked about any bridge is "Why?", as soon as the need for it becomes apparent the next question is "How?", and that is what this book is all about.

The way builders and engineers have confronted and dealt with this question forms one of the most fascinating technological sagas in history. Although in the late 20th century a fear and distrust of many technologies and their consequences began to set in -- despite our ever-growing reliance on them -- I hope this hook shows at least one area of "big engineering" that can be both interesting and benign.

Not for nothing has the phrase "building bridges" become a metaphor for all kinds of positive human activity -- cooperation rather than conflict; helping, not hindering; linking, not sundering. As the American Chinese engineer T. Y. Lin wrote some 20 years ago in connection with his visionary notion of an "International Peace Bridge" across the Bering Strait between North America and Russia (back in the days of the Cold War, let's not forget): "Bridges are far more than material connections between two points of land. Bridges serve also as profound links between societies, cultures, and political ideologies. Bridge projects can not only span between different continents, they can also help to bridge the gap between poor and rich nations, capitalism and socialism, between democracy and totalitarianism." One of the most poignant sights of the Bosnian War was the destruction of the old Mostar Bridge in 1993, and one of the most potent symbols of the possibility of renewal has been its reconstruction.

Bridges demonstrate that the human race has always used technology. A Neanderthal cutting down a log to cross a stream was using technology, however primitive; so were the medieval builders toiling for decade after decade to place the crude spans of Old London Bridge across the fast-flowing Thames, and the 19th-century engineer Sir John Rennie, using an early steam engine to construct the foundations for the replacement New London Bridge; as well as the modern builders who supplanted that bridge with smooth prestressed-concrete spans only a few decades ago. From prehistoric times to the present, the line of technology is unbroken; what has changed is its level of sophistication and comprehensibility.

If you have driven across, say, San Francisco's Golden Gate, England's Humber Bridge, or France's new Millau Viaduct, and wondered how it was built or stays up, this book might help you understand a little more about the way such fantastic structures work. But technical ingenuity is not the whole story. I hope that once you start looking at bridges rather than just crossing them, you will be continually struck (as I was all over again when originally writing, and now revising and updating, this book) by how beautiful so many of them can be -- and by the many forms this beauty can take. These assemblies of rope, wood, stone, iron, steel, concrete, and even plastics may not merely cross an industrial or inner-city wasteland, or skirt around a beautiful landscape as unobtrusively as possible -- they can also crown great natural splendor. It is virtually impossible now to visualize Sydney Harbour in Australia, the Firth of Forth in Scotland, or the Salgina Gorge in Switzerland, without the great bridges that span them, and it surely can't be said that they have defiled nature.

Great bridges demonstrate that there need be no conflict between technology and "art", but rather a fusion between the two. I hope this book also shows a little of how some great designers, from the Romans to the present day, have combined technical mastery, consciously or unconsciously, with an artistic sensibility, to create not just structures to be crossed as quickly as possible, but masterpieces by any standard. The greatness of the bridge designer lies in the interpenetration of his or her technical mastery and the creative spark: the one working with, for, and necessary to the other, to achieve the best-possible whole. So if this book makes readers experience great bridges for the first time, it will have been well worth while. And if it makes some look twice and ponder as they pass tinder a slender arch -- or an ugly slab --on a motorway or freeway, and wonder whether it had to look like that and if so, why, and if not, could a better design job not have been made of it, then it will have served a further purpose.

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