photo credits: J. Wayman Williams  





George Washington Bridge
photo credits: J. Wayman Williams

Learn about Ammann's innovative approach to calculating live loads.

Bayonne Bridge
photo credits: J. Wayman Williams


“A great bridge in a great city, although primarily utilitarian in its purpose, should nevertheless be a work of art to which Science lends its aid.”

Othmar H. Ammann (1879–1965) entered the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (Federal Institute of Technology) in 1898 and studied with Ritter, whose emphasis on simple analysis and aesthetic form helped to define Ammann’s mature work. Unlike Maillart, Ammann worked mostly in the area around New York City, which conditioned the kinds of structures he produced. He worked on huge public works projects, including the George Washington and Bayonne Bridges and in the process became the leading steel bridge designer of the age.

Ammann’s career illustrates a key challenge for structural artists—they must create works that fulfill the practical needs of the communities they serve. Such projects require political will to come to fruition. Thus, Ammann recognized the need for a bridge that would provide easy access from New Jersey to New York City. He knew that engineering possessed the ability to span the distance from 179th Street to the steep Palisades shore of New Jersey. However, he could never have realized this project without financial and government support. He found that support in the governor of New Jersey, George Silzer. The collaboration between the two men would ultimately lead to the construction of the George Washington Bridge.

Ammann and Silzer successfully promoted the idea for the bridge through a multi-pronged plan. Ammann produced a design that balanced aesthetic vision, political realities, and engineering calculations. Indeed, he created a bridge so dramatic and arresting that it claimed the attention and approval of opinion leaders and broad groups of citizens in New Jersey and New York. Finally, together with Silzer, he demonstrated that the project would benefit both regions economically. In the end, their success rested upon the efficiency and economy of Ammann’s design, which was in part made possible by his innovative approach to calculating live load.

© 2003 The Princeton University Art Museum