“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.

The Connection

December 4, 2017

Question: What do these blog posts have in common? See the purple numbers on the map above (click on the map to enlarge it) for the location of the pictures for all and the text for most. Blatant and Odd Fakery Then and Now – Pier A Arching Action, Too Brothers Bad Soil An Old […]

Read the full article →

The Meaning of Failure

November 27, 2017

Trigger warning: The blog post below includes discussion of death in building failures. Definitions of structural engineering tend to be positive, as they should be. Safely and economically designing structures…that sort of thing. Engineers are, amazingly enough, human and prefer to think about success rather than failures. I’ve been working on a paper for the […]

Read the full article →

When Is An Arch Not An Arch?

November 15, 2017

That’s the F/G subway, paralleling 9th Street in Brooklyn, where the tracks cross over Fourth Avenue. The train is elevated here because it crosses over the Gowanus Canal a little to the west at the Smith/9th Street station. As the tracks head east, to the left, they stay at roughly the same elevation as the […]

Read the full article →

Different Types of Efficiency

October 19, 2017

I seem to keep coming back to train station roofs as I write. That’s happening partly because I travel by train a good amount so I’m looking at those roofs, and partly because they tend to have exposed structure designed by engineers with little or no separate architectural design, which may not make them beautiful […]

Read the full article →

Detailing For The Forces

October 17, 2017

A big part of structural design is “detailing,” which is drawing the way various pieces of a building  are connected. The bridge above (click to enlarge all of the photos) is in Wrocław and has a shorter span than the average American suspension bridge of any era. I walked over it a number of times […]

Read the full article →

Road Trip: For Show Or For Blow

October 14, 2017

(Ignore the flying porpoises. I have no idea what they are.) That’s the roof of a shopping mall in Ottawa. Are those trusses real structure or just for show? Their form (diagonals sloped for tension, deepest at midspan) and location (paired on either side of the columns) both make sense as real structure. If so, […]

Read the full article →

Flavors of Obsolescence

October 13, 2017

This article in Curbed gets the facts right but also, by accident, emphasizes a point of unclarity that has led to a lot of sensational headlines over the years. There are some 2000 bridges of various types in New York City, most of them small. It sounds horrifying that 76 percent are “functionally obsolete” and […]

Read the full article →

All In The Emphasis

October 2, 2017

I find this article in the New York Times about the recent earthquake in Mexico City to be problematic. To be clear, I claim no special knowledge of the quake itself or of Mexico City, but the building process is the same everywhere. To create a building of any significant size, we need a prospective […]

Read the full article →

Planning For Future Floods

September 30, 2017

The South Ferry subway station after Hurricane Sandy, courtesy of the MTA: Here’s a good article on infrastructure improvement, specifically on repairs to mitigate future disasters: 6 rules for rebuilding infrastructure in an era of ‘unprecedented’ weather events. The third rule, “Design for climate change” jumped out at me as it’s something we see every time we […]

Read the full article →