08 November 2015

"Bridging the Dutch Landscape: Design guide for bridges"

This book is nearly 10 years old now, having been published in 2006. It was written by Christa van den Berg, an architectural journalist, with Gerhard Nijenhuis of design firm ipv Delft, and seems to have now been made available online in its entirety (you can also find a PDF version at www.overbruggen.nl). However, that's no real substitute for holding the actual book in your hands, I think - it's available from amazon.co.uk and no doubt elsewhere.

The book distils the design experience of the authors, and is copiously illustrated, mainly with examples of ipv Delft's prolific work. They are an interesting firm, largely staffed by industrial design engineers rather than structural engineers or architects, and their work is united by a sense of functionality and straightforwardness. Even in their more prosaic short-span bridges, there is an effort to maintain design quality.

The book is targeted largely at novice bridge designers and their clients, taking a step-by-step approach to bridge design which is helpful for the specialist but largely aimed at others. The book's 160 pages open with a generic guide to bridge design, with chapters titled "What is a bridge?", "Bridge types", "Materials", "Bridge deck", "Railings", "Engineering aspects" and "Costs". Two projects are explored in detail to describe the design process, and a further 26 projects are shown in brief. The whole book is profusely illustrated with photography and drawings.

Most of the bridges featured are unspectacular in nature, and this is the book's greatest strength. Not every bridge is a landmark, or an opportunity to take advantage of a client's generous funding. Most bridges which are built are relatively small, relatively modest, and need to be highly economical. Due to their ubiquity, attention to visual quality on such bridges can have a large impact on the built environment.

One of the two main case studies is a set of 59 bridges for a housing development at Het Jeurlink, for which a family of bridge designs were created, small road bridges, foot and cycle bridges, very small bridges and one or two larger bridges. This gives a good example of how simple parapet designs can establish a consistent identity, and remain adaptable to a variety of needs.

Of the other bridges featured, there are as many that I dislike as that I like, but I still found that instructive - the sheer quantity of designs offers inspiration for what to copy as well as to avoid.

Experienced bridge architects will find little in here for them. I think a good audience for this book would include engineers, who need every bit of visual training they can get, and specialist suppliers of small bridges, who might be inspired to raise their own game a notch.