“Always and ever differently the bridge escorts the lingering and hastening ways of men to and from, so that they may get to other banks and in the end, as mortals, to the other side.” Thus wrote Martin Heidegger of bridges. From a purely structural point of view, such a structure allows for passage between two inaccessible banks. They’re an evolutionary step that follows from the road. A bridge rises and connects that which is topographically separated, inserted into a landscape to communicate and to link. The bridge is a physical space, an independent place, a conduit, and a track.

The first bridge was simply the trunk of a fallen tree and not a human work. But the form, extent, and purpose of bridges has become more complex as technology has evolved. From prehistory to the present day, bridges have posed structural engineering challenges. They’re also aesthetic and architectural symbols, strategic points of war and commerce. Through bridges, we can tell the history of our complex civilization. But the bridge is also a symbol of our existence, an archetype of our passage through the world, our transition to death, and that which awaits us thereafter.

As people, we’ve also erected invisible bridges: language—which has allowed us to communicate with each other—to avoid existential isolation, for problem-solving, and for interpersonal relationships. The simple fact of breathing might be interpreted as a bridge.

What follows is a whimsical selection of bridges. All of them are works of engineering, by which they support transit, and connect symbols, metaphors, and human stories.


Tello Bridge (Iraq)

tello

 

The oldest bridge in the world is in the Iraqi city of Tello. It’s 4,000 years old. Discovered in 1939, it was initially thought a temple and later, an ancient dam. But from various studies based on photographs from the time it was discovered, and more recent research, it’s been concluded that it was a bridge which allowed a channel of water to cross. A priceless artifact of Sumerian culture—structurally advanced for its time—it was built entirely of clay bricks, sand, and some plant materials. The bridge was exposed to weather for a long time but, as of a few years ago, the British Museum has been in the process of training and coordinating a team of local experts for its conservation, in conjunction with the Iraqi government. The intent is to save this relic of humanity, and to help revive tourism in a country that’s spent nearly two decades at incessant war.

Magdalena Bridge or Devil’s Bridge (Lucca, Italy)

magdalena

 

The Ponte della Maddalena is a medieval bridge in Italy’s Tuscany. An engineering masterpiece, it’s composed of multiple stone arches decreasing in size. Beyond its enduring physical properties, the bridge is home to a legend. Like other projects whose realization seemed impossible in their times, the bridge’s construction was attributed to one no less than the devil. The legend has it that, desperate after problems that prevented the bridge’s completion, the builder made a pact with Satan, who offered to finish the work in one night in exchange for the soul of the first individual to cross. The builder accepted and construction was completed. In a fit of guilt and fear, the builder went to the local parish priest and told him everything. Together, they planned to deceive the devil: to make a dog cross the bridge before anyone else. The plan worked, and the dog was taken by the devil and never seen again. To this day, it’s said, one can see the silhouette of the dog, a Maremma sheepdog, on October nights after midnight.

Kingsgate Bridge (Durham, England)

kingsgate

This was the final work personally designed by structural engineering genius Ove Arup (1895-1988), who designed the Sydney Opera House and the Penguin Pool at the London Zoo. Completed in 1963, the Kingsgate Bridge was the work Arup himself considered the pinnacle of his prowess in fulfilling his vision of total design: it was the perfect integration of engineering and architecture. Meticulously planned by Arup, like wise planned were the strange and risky processes of constructing and assembling it. The bridge was built in two halves, one on each bank of the river. In an exercise of genius and precision, when finished, both parts were rotated on cones (also designed by Arup) until they met over the middle of the river and were joined above the water. The result is a thin white band, leaning on elegant, slender conical fingers that tighten and extend harmoniously above the English landscape.

Hussaini Bridge (Hussaini, Pakistan)

hussaini

Considered the most dangerous pedestrian bridge in the world, the Hussaini bridge, in northern Pakistan, was built to cross the Hunza River. At an altitude of 2,600 meters, it’s the only point that connects the routes heading to the north of the region, enclosed as it is by the Himalayan and Karkoram mountain ranges. Built by local people using materials from the region and steel cable, it’s the only way to travel to the major cities in the north of the country. Crossing poses a great risk due to the height at which it’s suspended, the precariousness of the structure, its instability and narrowness, as well as the carelessness with which its location was decided and the strong gusts of wind blowing over it.

El Marco International Bridge (Spain and Portugal)

el-marco

Crossing the Abrilongo stream, which delimits part of the border between Portugal and Spain, this is one of the world’s smallest bridges, measuring 3.2 meters long by 1.45 meters wide. Originally, it was an improvised wooden structure connecting the two countries and allowing for the smuggling of goods and which kept the economies of nearby populations going. With the founding of the European Union, the practice ceased to be economically viable. In 2008, the bridge was remodeled and, while it is no longer generous in economic terms, it is a safe and picturesque way for those who want to freely move, in two steps, from one country to the other.

Puerta México (Tijuana-San Diego, Mexico-United States)

puerta-mexico

The Puerta México was one of the works carried out for the National Border Program in Tijuana, Mexico, in 1961. The Puerta México was collaboratively designed by the famed Mexican architect Mario Pani along with Félix Candela, Manuel Larrosa, and Guillermo Rossell, heavyweights of the worlds of architecture and the urbanism of their time. A quirky, modernist building, it served as a bridge over the border between Mexico and the United States. Known as “la concha” for its formal properties, in 2015 its demolition was announced in order to expand the passage and speed up the flow of people. The announcement provoked displeasure of many, including experts in both countries, and the demolition was eventually suspended. The Puerta México no longer performs its functions as a border-bridge, though. It was entirely replaced by El Chaparral, the area’s most important vehicular border crossing.

Rolling Bridge (London, England)

rolling-bridge

A curling pedestrian bridge, this one crosses the Grand Union Canal in Paddington, London. Designed and developed by the architectural genius, Thomas Heatherwick, he won the 2005  Structural Design Award with this work. A strange and futuristic masterpiece of structural engineering and mechanics, the bridge consists of eight identical modular and triangular structures and a complex hydraulic system that allows the bridge to be rolled up and unrolled again. It’s made principally of steel and wood. Folding the perfect octagon, it can be deployed in just three minutes. Most of the time the Rolling Bridge is unrolled, but on Fridays at noon the magic happens, and one can watch as the hydraulic worm retracts.

Images: 1) The Library of Congress 2) Creative Commons – Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP 3) Creative Commons – David P. Howard 4) Creative Commons – Ahmed Sajjad Zaidi 5) Wikimedia Commons – Myrabella 6) Wikimedia Commons – Correia PM 7) Public domain 8) Wikimedia Commons – Loz Pycock

“Always and ever differently the bridge escorts the lingering and hastening ways of men to and from, so that they may get to other banks and in the end, as mortals, to the other side.” Thus wrote Martin Heidegger of bridges. From a purely structural point of view, such a structure allows for passage between two inaccessible banks. They’re an evolutionary step that follows from the road. A bridge rises and connects that which is topographically separated, inserted into a landscape to communicate and to link. The bridge is a physical space, an independent place, a conduit, and a track.

The first bridge was simply the trunk of a fallen tree and not a human work. But the form, extent, and purpose of bridges has become more complex as technology has evolved. From prehistory to the present day, bridges have posed structural engineering challenges. They’re also aesthetic and architectural symbols, strategic points of war and commerce. Through bridges, we can tell the history of our complex civilization. But the bridge is also a symbol of our existence, an archetype of our passage through the world, our transition to death, and that which awaits us thereafter.

As people, we’ve also erected invisible bridges: language—which has allowed us to communicate with each other—to avoid existential isolation, for problem-solving, and for interpersonal relationships. The simple fact of breathing might be interpreted as a bridge.

What follows is a whimsical selection of bridges. All of them are works of engineering, by which they support transit, and connect symbols, metaphors, and human stories.


Tello Bridge (Iraq)

tello

 

The oldest bridge in the world is in the Iraqi city of Tello. It’s 4,000 years old. Discovered in 1939, it was initially thought a temple and later, an ancient dam. But from various studies based on photographs from the time it was discovered, and more recent research, it’s been concluded that it was a bridge which allowed a channel of water to cross. A priceless artifact of Sumerian culture—structurally advanced for its time—it was built entirely of clay bricks, sand, and some plant materials. The bridge was exposed to weather for a long time but, as of a few years ago, the British Museum has been in the process of training and coordinating a team of local experts for its conservation, in conjunction with the Iraqi government. The intent is to save this relic of humanity, and to help revive tourism in a country that’s spent nearly two decades at incessant war.

Magdalena Bridge or Devil’s Bridge (Lucca, Italy)

magdalena

 

The Ponte della Maddalena is a medieval bridge in Italy’s Tuscany. An engineering masterpiece, it’s composed of multiple stone arches decreasing in size. Beyond its enduring physical properties, the bridge is home to a legend. Like other projects whose realization seemed impossible in their times, the bridge’s construction was attributed to one no less than the devil. The legend has it that, desperate after problems that prevented the bridge’s completion, the builder made a pact with Satan, who offered to finish the work in one night in exchange for the soul of the first individual to cross. The builder accepted and construction was completed. In a fit of guilt and fear, the builder went to the local parish priest and told him everything. Together, they planned to deceive the devil: to make a dog cross the bridge before anyone else. The plan worked, and the dog was taken by the devil and never seen again. To this day, it’s said, one can see the silhouette of the dog, a Maremma sheepdog, on October nights after midnight.

Kingsgate Bridge (Durham, England)

kingsgate

This was the final work personally designed by structural engineering genius Ove Arup (1895-1988), who designed the Sydney Opera House and the Penguin Pool at the London Zoo. Completed in 1963, the Kingsgate Bridge was the work Arup himself considered the pinnacle of his prowess in fulfilling his vision of total design: it was the perfect integration of engineering and architecture. Meticulously planned by Arup, like wise planned were the strange and risky processes of constructing and assembling it. The bridge was built in two halves, one on each bank of the river. In an exercise of genius and precision, when finished, both parts were rotated on cones (also designed by Arup) until they met over the middle of the river and were joined above the water. The result is a thin white band, leaning on elegant, slender conical fingers that tighten and extend harmoniously above the English landscape.

Hussaini Bridge (Hussaini, Pakistan)

hussaini

Considered the most dangerous pedestrian bridge in the world, the Hussaini bridge, in northern Pakistan, was built to cross the Hunza River. At an altitude of 2,600 meters, it’s the only point that connects the routes heading to the north of the region, enclosed as it is by the Himalayan and Karkoram mountain ranges. Built by local people using materials from the region and steel cable, it’s the only way to travel to the major cities in the north of the country. Crossing poses a great risk due to the height at which it’s suspended, the precariousness of the structure, its instability and narrowness, as well as the carelessness with which its location was decided and the strong gusts of wind blowing over it.

El Marco International Bridge (Spain and Portugal)

el-marco

Crossing the Abrilongo stream, which delimits part of the border between Portugal and Spain, this is one of the world’s smallest bridges, measuring 3.2 meters long by 1.45 meters wide. Originally, it was an improvised wooden structure connecting the two countries and allowing for the smuggling of goods and which kept the economies of nearby populations going. With the founding of the European Union, the practice ceased to be economically viable. In 2008, the bridge was remodeled and, while it is no longer generous in economic terms, it is a safe and picturesque way for those who want to freely move, in two steps, from one country to the other.

Puerta México (Tijuana-San Diego, Mexico-United States)

puerta-mexico

The Puerta México was one of the works carried out for the National Border Program in Tijuana, Mexico, in 1961. The Puerta México was collaboratively designed by the famed Mexican architect Mario Pani along with Félix Candela, Manuel Larrosa, and Guillermo Rossell, heavyweights of the worlds of architecture and the urbanism of their time. A quirky, modernist building, it served as a bridge over the border between Mexico and the United States. Known as “la concha” for its formal properties, in 2015 its demolition was announced in order to expand the passage and speed up the flow of people. The announcement provoked displeasure of many, including experts in both countries, and the demolition was eventually suspended. The Puerta México no longer performs its functions as a border-bridge, though. It was entirely replaced by El Chaparral, the area’s most important vehicular border crossing.

Rolling Bridge (London, England)

rolling-bridge

A curling pedestrian bridge, this one crosses the Grand Union Canal in Paddington, London. Designed and developed by the architectural genius, Thomas Heatherwick, he won the 2005  Structural Design Award with this work. A strange and futuristic masterpiece of structural engineering and mechanics, the bridge consists of eight identical modular and triangular structures and a complex hydraulic system that allows the bridge to be rolled up and unrolled again. It’s made principally of steel and wood. Folding the perfect octagon, it can be deployed in just three minutes. Most of the time the Rolling Bridge is unrolled, but on Fridays at noon the magic happens, and one can watch as the hydraulic worm retracts.

Images: 1) The Library of Congress 2) Creative Commons – Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP 3) Creative Commons – David P. Howard 4) Creative Commons – Ahmed Sajjad Zaidi 5) Wikimedia Commons – Myrabella 6) Wikimedia Commons – Correia PM 7) Public domain 8) Wikimedia Commons – Loz Pycock