“The Bridge”

by Don Friedman on December 5, 2017

Some great construction photographs of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge: here.

I’ve worked on a few pedestrian bridges in the last thirty years and one dam, but that’s it: otherwise my projects have all been buildings. But bridges occupy a chunk of my brain and always will because of their nature as expressed engineering. There are a few buildings that wear their structure on their sleeve, so to speak, but in general the structural engineering of buildings is hidden by all the architectural elements that make them buildings as opposed to bare steel frames. The older a building is, the less likely that its structure is expressed in any way; the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century buildings I usually work on have almost no expressed structure. Bridges may have some architectural elements, but most of their physical presence is structure, which is kind fo refreshing.

The Verrazano also inspired one of the great books about construction: The Bridge by Gay Talese. Talese is a journalist with no particular interest in engineering or construction that I can see. His interest in the bridge is an interest in people. He wrote about the designers (including the great Othmar Ammann) the contractors, and the people whose lives were affected by the construction in one way or another. I’ve said here before that the reason to conserve buildings is to save their place in society. In the same vein, a large civil work like the bridge can only be judged by looking at how it affects people.

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