Becoming One: Bridges in Natural Landscapes
Becoming One: Bridges in Natural Landscapes
In an age when man lauded his ability to move from agrarian sensibilities to industrial prowess, it is understandable that nineteenth-century engineers used massive structures like the Brooklyn Bridge to mark their success in conquering nature. Prior to that, contrasted with the astounding natural landscapes depicted in the Qing dynasty artist Yan Zai’s painting or Hokusai’s Hanging Bridge print, the bridge structure is often depicted as humble—though works of art with bridges in landscapes mainly celebrate the courage of travelers and accentuate the terror as well as the wonder in wild nature.
However, in the first half of the twentieth century, a group of Swiss engineers associated with the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich developed their approach and practice as a result of the educational philosophy of their teachers, for whom aesthetic considerations weighed as heavily as those of structure. More importantly, through advanced engineering techniques and meticulous aesthetic consideration, their bridges structures speak to the effort of becoming one with the natural landscape instead of conquering it. Four photographs are selected for this section to demonstrate their thoughts.
As a master of design in reinforced concrete, Robert Maillart (1872–1940) stated in 1930, “there is no doubt that light, slender structures will one day be praised by the layman for being as beautiful and even more beautiful than massive ones.” In the same year, one of his most famous projects, the Salginatobel Bridge above Schiers in the Graubünden, was completed. A photograph of this bridge by the FBM studio captures precisely how the structure sits humbly in the wilderness of Switzerland. This three-hinged arch bridge is among the finest built in that form and was listed as the thirteenth International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1991. From the photograph one can discern that the color corresponds to the exposed rocks of the mountains behind the bridge, and its shape echoes the curved roads on the left side of the image. It intends to merge into the wilderness, rather than calling for attention.
Salginatobel Bridge, built in 1929-30, Schiers, Switzerland. Selected from “Robert Maillart: Master of Concrete Forms” in The Art of Structural Design: A Swiss Legacy, 2003. Courtesy of Mancia/Bodmer FBM Studio, Zurich
While designing the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge to connect the boroughs of Bronx and Queens in 1935, Othmar Ammann (1879–1965) encountered the most powerful visual challenge of his career. As the photograph of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge shows, it is situated at a site where the entire bridge, from anchor to towers to anchor, would be fully visible from nearly every viewpoint. Ammann’s previous experience led him to three basic goals in designing the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge: the most slender deck possible, the strong but spare steel towers, and anchorages expressive of their function. This bridge’s extremely simplistic profile, as seen in the photograph, creates strong contrasts with prints of the Brooklyn Bridge in the previous section.
Profile of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, opened in 1939. Selected from “Othmar H. Ammann: Masters of Steel Bridges” in The Art of Structural Design: A Swiss Legacy, 2003. Courtesy of Museum of the City of New York.
The pursuit for open, transparent, and simpler forms can also be sensed in Christian Menn’s (born 1927) Viamala Bridge over the precipitous canyon of the Rhine River. His early expertise in arch bridges allowed for a wide overhanging part of the roadway structure of this bridge, which casts a shadow on the vertical walls of the bridge to make the deck appear even thinner. In his most well-known project, the Ganter Bridge, Menn managed to create an impressively light profile in a highly original form. The site has many constraints, such as an unstable slope, high wind forces, and a curving roadway between the valley sides.
Viamala Bridge over the Rhine, built in 1967, with arch span of 96 meters. Selected from “Christian Menn: Structural Art in Bridges” in The Art of Structural Design: A Swiss Legacy, 2003. Courtesy of Christian Menn.
Ganter Bridge, complete in 1980, showing the profile where Menn avoided deep griders at the supports. Selected from “Christian Menn: Structural Art in Bridges” in The Art of Structural Design: A Swiss Legacy, 2003. Courtesy of Christian Menn.
However, for Menn the solution is not to defeat nature with an imposing structure. Instead, the question he keeps asking himself for almost every project is: does the structure fit into the landscape, or not?
Yifan Zou, M.A. Candidate in Chinese art, University of Pennsylvania; Information and Technology Summer 2016 Intern
Seasonal LandscapesSeasonal Landscapes, undated
Qing dynasty, 1644–1912
Yan Zai 嚴載, early Qing dynasty
The Suspension Bridge on the Border of Hida and Etchū Provinces (Hietsu no sakai tsuribashi 飛越の堺つりはし), from the series “Remarkable Views of Bridges in Various Provinces” (Shokoku meikyō kiran 諸国名橋奇覧)The Suspension Bridge on the Border of Hida and Etchū Provinces (Hietsu no sakai tsuribashi 飛越の堺つりはし), from the series “Remarkable Views of Bridges in Various Provinces” (Shokoku meikyō kiran 諸国名橋奇覧), ca. 1834 [Tenpō 5]
Edo period, 1615–1868
Katsushika Hokusai 葛飾北斎, 1760–1849 | Published by Nishimuraya Yohachi 西村屋与八 (Eijudō 永寿堂)