12 September 2017

Footbridge 2017: conference report Part 1

Every three years, the bridge community gets together to discuss developments in the world of footbridges. Previous events have been held in Paris, Venice, Porto, Wrocław, and London, and this year it was Berlin's turn. I’ve reported on the Wrocław and London events here on this blog.

These are always amongst the most enjoyable events in the conference calendar, largely because they are (in line with their theme) a great opportunity for spanning borders and making new connections. I've met many interesting people at Footbridge conferences, and the problem now is that there are simply too many presentations to see and too many people to meet within the time available.

This year's event was held in the Technical University of Berlin, in one of a series of large buildings originally built for the AEG company. The exhibition part of the conference was located in the Peter Behrens Hall, a giant space now normally used as a structures laboratory. It's a lesson in humility for Anglo-Saxon attendees, as the space showcases the close and purposeful collaboration between industry and academia that is less often found outside mainland Europe.

Tucked away throughout the hall are little experimental concrete-shell bridges, bridge models built by students, and their pride-and-joy, a carbon-fibre supported stress ribbon bridge which was being used during the conference to demonstrate active vibration control mechanisms (see photo, right).

This year, the conference expanded beyond the usual array of technical papers and case study presentations by organising a bridge design "competition", Footbridges for Berlin, with attendees invited to submit their ideas for a bridge at six sites within the city. These have been collected together in a book ("The world’s Footbridges for Berlin"), which I'll review in more detail in a later post.

The presentations of these bridges gave several people the opportunity to explore creative directions that they would normally avoid, as well as the chance to cultivate critique and debate. Unfortunately, this stream was presented at one end of the exhibition hall, a space simply too large and echoing for this to work as well as might have been hoped.

There were some very interesting keynote presentations, most notably the two which departed most from the conference's putative topic. Film director Robert Schwentke presented on how to "tell a story" (addressing the continuing need for designers to improve how they communicate), while photographer Wolfgang Volz gave a splendid overview of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's Floating Piers project. Both these topics reminded all those present of the need to lift their heads up from day-to-day concerns, and consider how to better address the wider world for whom the minutiae of design and construction is irrelevant.

One thing that struck me about the keynotes was that all the presenters were white, European men. In line with the conference as a whole (and much of the wider bridge design and engineering community), this is not a diverse group, and not well aligned with those who enjoy or endure our output. I'd seriously hope that Footbridge 2020, to be held in Madrid, might try to do better.

One positive development is that the conference papers will be made available online (via Structurae) in six months time. I think this is a brilliant move, as far too often conference proceedings are difficult to get hold of, acting as a bar on sharing knowledge more widely. Perhaps other conference organisers could consider adopting a similar approach, as the whole industry's track record on availability of published research and case studies remains very poor.

Ok, that's enough for this post. I'll put together one or two follow-up posts to look in more detail at some of the more interesting papers presented at the conference.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your report on Footbridge 2017! I could not make the concerence, so any insight is great for me. Also your commend on the divserity (or its lack of) of keynote speakers is very important. Food for thought