Walking Through History

By Aurégane Denis

We walk,  we strive, we cross mountains,  fields, and hills we are one with nature its ever-flowing life but we may get stuck when we come to rivers; some far too wide to cross. So what has humanity done over many thousands of years? We invented bridges, built them and of course crossed them. We adapted. And we adapted sooner than you might think because the first bridge was built in 1600 BC in ancient Greece. Although the designs have changed quite a lot through time, we still can find some of those ancient treasures around the world that kept their authentic architecture alongside some of the newest inventions within this genre. Read more in Walking through History.

Sometimes it is nature that offers humans a path to themselves. In Japan, between the wildness of the sea and the gentleness of the Noda River, you can cross a natural bridge made of sand and that has a deep meaning for the people. It is said to be a ladder from heaven to earth, designed so that the deity Izanami-no-mikoto could reach the clouds. But there is also a scientific explanation, namely that the lake and sea that are separated by this bridge, are their own creator, their original artist. This breathtaking path is called “Amanohashidate”. 

Amanohashidate is quite famous in Japan because of the splendid view it offers to tourists and local people alike. It is not surprising when we know that it is 3.6 km long and hosts more than 8 000 pine trees. This is a real gift from nature, a natural work of art that was also itself the inspiration of some talented artists such as Sesshù, who painted this bridge in 1501-1505 and called his work “vue d’Ama no Hashidate”. It is open to any lucky mortals that want to cross it by foot or bicycle and takes approximately one magical hour to go from one side to the other. 

Then there is the bridge that is often depicted in films, photographs or medieval paintings, located in Lucern (Switzerland). It has a name that is very difficult for non-German speakers to pronounce, called Kabellbrücke (chapel bridge in English). It was originally built in 1333 but the tower in the centre made of stone was built in 13000. This tower is 34 metres high and was not something travellers would want to visit in the first place at the time as it was used as a prison and torture chamber. But don’t worry, it now has the innocent but important task of guarding the city’s ancient treasures. 

This covered wooden bridge at the heart of a modern city has the surprising effect of transporting its travellers into a different time, a medieval one. During this magical 204meters long walk, maybe magical thoughts could transform you into a knight or an old peasant?

Unfortunately, its material made it vulnerable and in august 1993, a tragic fire almost destroyed the whole construction. So the bridge people cross today is an identical reproduction of the old one to save this historical heritage and so can still transport its pedestrians to a different time. 

Now, this next ridge is certainly not made of wood but is impressively innovating. Let’s stop for a minute in Gateshead (England) to observe the Gateshead Millenium Bridge. This bridge is a mobile rotating bridge made of only one big piece of construction, placed by one of the world’s largest floating cranes on 20 November 2000. It was opened to the public on 17 September 2001 and inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth II herself on 7 May 2002. 

Visually, it seems futurist with its oval form but the most interesting part is when a passing boat is added to the play. See, it doesn’t open in its middle to let the boats pass like a majority of bridges but tilts on its side to let enough space for them to cross. You might worry about the trash from the bridge falling into the water when it pivots, but its engineers thought about this as well by building a receptacle that will allow the bridge to clean itself without polluting the river Tyne. 

It is not surprising that this bridge won no less than 4 academic awards such as the ABSE Outstanding Structure Award in 2005, and even had the honour to be pictured on the back of pounds pieces in 2007. 

Accelerating briefly through time, there is this bridge that is for now only in project form but still promising. Conceptualised by a group of MIT engineers, they wanted to reinvent the mechanical steel structure of bridges by replacing the strong steel joints with tree forks.

Picture it, the strong viaducts made of steel that we today know are being replaced by natural and ecological designs, those angles on tree branches. Thinking about the future of our earth, these engineers got inspired by how a tree works, its insides, its connection with the earth and how it recycles by removing 22 kg of CO2 in a year. 

This will of course reduce the carbon emissions not just from the materials but from the construction. The construction of the prototype involves a lot of modern technologies to obtain precise results.

And so whilst we are walking into the future what about finishing our bridge story with a different type of bridge altogether? Camden will soon host a new kind of crossing too, one that you can already find in other cities like New York. You will literally walk through a garden inside the green city of London. Camden High Line will be a sort of walking bridge built on an old railway line in which you can rest if you choose to sit on it with the many benches.

It will include, coffee bars so whilst having a cuppa people can look at the pedestrians walking through this hanging garden. But patience, this creative but also ecological bridge is not supposed to open before 2025, So you may take a walk in the many parks London has to offer in the waiting.

Bridge construction has evolved over time, in its materials, designs and height. They are stronger and perhaps more impressive than they used to be, but as we have seen, wood is back in the game and this could change the bridge industry for the good of our planet.

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