20 November 2008

Swiss Bridges: Epilogue

So that was that, the end of the IABSE Study Tour in Switzerland, and very much back down to earth afterwards.

One of the main things I took away from the trip was how much can be achieved by engineers when they are confident in their creativity, skilled in their art, and (relatively) unimpeded by bureaucracy. Few if any of the bridges we saw had the involvement of an architect, or if one was involved, the structural engineering was central to the design process. Much of this is down to the challenges set by the remarkable Swiss landscape rather than anything else: the engineering absolutely has to take precedence.

That most of these bridges are also aesthetically successful is far from a foregone conclusion. Several of Robert Maillart's bridges are visually clumsy (including one that we visited, Traubach Bridge). These bridges are masterpieces because of the deep involvement and care lavished upon them by their designers. I think bridge designers anywhere can learn what can be achieved when they have a strong vision and can minimise the need for compromise.

David Billington has suggested that all engineers should consider making a pilgrimage to the Salginatobel Bridge. Before this trip I'd have dismissed that as daft idealism, but now I'd quite happily go along with it. There's plenty to learn technically from structurally challenging historic bridges such as these, but more important is what they offer in both inspiration and aspiration.

I know I'm already looking forward to the next study tour!

While in Epilogue mode, can I take the opportunity to ask for more feedback from anyone reading this blog? I'd be keen to hear comments on the bridges, opinions, news or anything else; it would be good to know that someone is reading, and I'm particularly open to discussion, debate or even dispute!


Anonymous said...

There is no doubt that Maillart, and also Consett, truly understand the mountains. Their bridge designs appear to evolve organically from the natural rocky environment. I am less convinced by the form of Sunniberg, by Christian Menn, which seems an imposition on the landscape. Its aesthetic is clearly closely related to its structural engineering and, clever though that may be, it has little of the elemental harmony with the environment that the Maillart and Consett bridges possess. Bridge structural form is generally dictated by function, yet if it does not also respect the context in which it is, then the composition is not complete. This is a highly subjective point of view but almost everyone knows and agrees when the design is 'right', as Salginatobel so obviously is. Sounds like you enjoyed the trip!

Anonymous said...

Hello, I am a structural engineer and looking forward to read your article everyday!