Striking a Balance Between Form and
What makes a bridge aesthetically pleasing? Finley McNary Engineers
recently asked this question of noted bridge designers and found
that many engineers believe that aesthetics are inherent in
the design. The consensus is that a well-thought-out bridge
can make all the difference-build it right, and it'll always
Three key elements where form and function meet were identified.
Location. Visualizing where a bridge will be located and making
sure it will fit where it is placed are essential. A structure
can be intrinsically beautiful, but if it does not fit with
its surroundings, the beauty can be lost.
Proportion. An attractive bridge is one that's properly proportioned.
The size and shape of a structure's components and how they
complement each other help provide a definition of its purpose.
"A few feet can make a huge difference," says Miguel
Rosales, AIA, president of Rosales, Gottemoeller & Associates,
Inc. (Brookline, MA), a transportation architecture and engineering
firm. "A bridge that's beautiful is usually very light
and streamlined. To do that, you have to really work on proportion."
Simplicity. Covering up a run-of-the-mill bridge with brick
or hard deck to make it more attractive almost never works.
If a structure is unattractive, chances are that it won't matter
what you put on top of it. Bridges with a lot of added railings,
tiers, and finishes can overshadow the beauty of the basic structure.
Another school of thought goes beyond the building basics.
Some designers say it takes more than a good functional bridge
to ensure that a bridge is attractive. "It's easy to say
that aesthetics are part of a well-designed bridge structure,"
says Thomas Piotrowski, partner with H2L2 Architects and Planners
(New York, NY), a design firm that focuses on architecture,
planning, interior design, and infrastructure. "But there
are requirements for different bridges, and generally aesthetics
are not one of those requirements. There are crude and unimaginative
ways of doing things, but usually you can find a better way."
And, some designers believe that a balance of form and function
may be the best option. Rosales says, "I think aesthetics
are inherent in good design, but they're not a straightforward
kind of thing. It's more than just calculations-it's an artistic
shaping of the bridge.
The article concludes that bridge designers who set out to
design a "signature" bridge without first focusing
on the basic functionality are likely to disappoint on both
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