In the Near Future, Bridges Won’t Just Be Bridges Anymore

26Sep16

by Terry Bennet

There’s no shortage of iconic bridges in the world: Golden Gate, Brooklyn, (London) Tower, Pont du Gard, Chengyang, Millau Viaduct, Rialto. But have you ever heard of a bridge comprising a performance amphitheater, a café, picnic gardens, waterfalls, and interactive art installations?

It’s no fantasy. The winning design (by OMA + OLIN) for the 11th Street Bridge Park in Washington, DC, expected to open by 2019, is a glimpse into what future bridges will look like. Today’s bridges can be awe-inspiring and iconic, but in the future, bridges will go above and beyond being just eye candy and a means for traffic to cross over barriers.

future bridges anacostia crossing aerial

Such is the case with the 11th Street Bridge Park, which aims to integrate the Capitol Hill neighborhood with communities east of the Anacostia River—no cars allowed. The goal of the project, spearheaded by project director Scott Kratz, is to re-envision a bridge that, beyond conveying pedestrian traffic, would generate inspiration and human connection.

“By following a community-driven and vetted process, the Bridge Park can become a useful example of how the public and private sectors can invest in and create world-class public space in an equitable manner,” Kratz said in a statement last November.

While the 11st Street Bridge is not the world’s first multipurpose bridge (China’s Tianjin Eye features a giant Ferris wheel), it’s paving the way for more ingenious designs that can better unify communities.

future bridges 11th Street Park Bridge/Anacostia Crossing

Then and Now. To see a clearer picture of what bridges will become, it’s key to take a look at how far they’ve come. The Brooklyn Bridge, completed in 1883, is a prime example of an iconic bridge that is also one of the greatest engineering accomplishments in a century of heroic civil engineering. This forerunner to the Golden Gate Bridge epitomized what the future of civil engineering would hold.

At the time, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. Its piers were taller than any building in New York City, except the slender Trinity Church steeple. And it used a revolutionary technology at the time: woven steel cables. The Brooklyn Bridge and other breakthrough civil structures completed in the 19th century connected the country and helped lay the foundation for U.S. economic successes in the 20th century. It changed people’s ideas of what a bridge is or what it could do—literally bringing people together.

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