Friday, April 3, 2015

Building Better Bridges

In ‘Building Better Bridges’ Paul Giroux wanted to highlight some of the unique challenges and issues we all face in the signature bridge market. 
Society has love affair with landmark bridge:  The challenge of any design problem is to find the right balance of aesthetics (form) and performance (function).  There are a lot of frustration with the politics, selection process, time, inaccurate budget estimates, constructability and durability.  Paul used the Minnesota Bridge as an example of unclear bidding process.  Even with these frustrations, society want more then just function, they want form and project their fantasies onto the bridge hoping that a bridge will beautify their surroundings.  There is a demand for major bridges to be more than just spans.  Bridge also wants to be monuments.  Paul used the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge (SFOBB) as an example of the politician’s desire for a landmark.  They didn’t want a “freeway on stilts”.  The Dallas City Council hops to transform and improve the Dallas landscape with their new bridge across the Trinity River designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.  The politicians in western New York want to emulate the success of the Golden Gate as a new gateway, a defining moment of entry.     
Form vs. Function.  Paul spoke about form follows function idea in design.  If we put function as a priority then form follows its function.  Conversely, when a bridge is designed with aesthetics as a priority, its function follows its form.  There is a spectrum between form and function.  A successful bridge would be a balance of the two.  A bridge by function could be defined as a structure to span a gap and to provide passage.  A bridge by form could be defined as work of art, to span time and provide an icon for the dreams and vision of a society.  Between those two poles a tug of war goes on as we endeavor to make our bridges all things to all people. 
Historically, Function has dominated much of bridge design.  The new Signature bridges are replacing the old ones.  In the process of selecting a bridge, the economic involve is difficult to sort through because the design is still in a schematic phase and cost has not been finalized.  The modern post-tensioned technology and improved concrete mixes have allowed reinforced concrete bridge to be push ever higher levels of performance, longer spans and increased durability.  We are replacing the broken bridges with new signature bridges.  Paul is concerned that our selection process places too much emphasis on aesthetic considerations.  This needs to change.  He lists the following categories of changes:
·         Depoliticize the Process
·         Training and Education
·         Learning from our Past
·         Realistic Conductible Details
·         Inform bridge selection:  Form and Function
·         Maintain what we build.

A bridge stretched across a river, Heidegger argues, provides such a sense of space. Out of numerous possibilities along the river, the construction of a bridge was the site in which a place was constituted. For Heidegger the bridge in not just a functional object, nor is it a dual signifier of referential object and symbolic meaning. For Heidegger, a bridge is a manifestation of the fourfold which is at the base of all dwelling. A bridge collects and unites all aspects of the fourfold, earth, sky, mortals and divinities into a "thing". Such things are distinguishes from one another by the manner in which the manifest the unity of the fourfold. A bridge, in other words, allows for dwelling on account of its predetermined unification of the fourfold.

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