Books on the bridges of Britain tend to fall into three camps: big national surveys; more selective surveys following the author's specific tastes; and studies of niche topics like railway bridges. The new book by specialist bridge architect Ronald Yee surprised me by coming closest to the first camp.
The message I got from the main part of the book is that Yee sees architecture and engineering as being to some extent complementary and to some extent inseparable. Bridges from all periods are described straightforwardly, with the same attention given to how they work (structurally), as to their place in history, their visual appearance, or their local context. Yes, they may have specific architectural attributes (the description of Chester's Grosvenor Bridge includes its "archivolts of red Peckforton sandston ashlar" and "a frieze and cornice with rectangular modillions", amongst other features; Stirling's Forthside Footbridge's "visual effect is gymnastic and an undeniably spectacular sight"), but these are never anything other than part of the wider story.
The key strength of the book lies in how well the entries have been curated, and illustrated with generally excellent photographs. Given that Yee is well known for his sketches and drawings, I'd love to have seen more of those - they are few and far between.
Presenting the bridges in a gazetteer format, structured by materials and bridge typology, does mean that much is left unsaid about architecture: the way in which bridge design in Britain moved through phases of craft construction, master builders, the era of "scientific" engineering, and the slow and then more rapid rise of architects as the leaders of the design narrative. Yee's book therefore leaves room for some very different treatments of the subject, and hopefully others will step into the breach.