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GARETH GARDNER photography + journalism

Masterpieces: Bridge Architecture + Design

by Chris van Uffelen
Published by Braun Publishing, price £35
ISBN 978-3037680254
Reviewed by Gareth Gardner

The feedback sandwich is a well-established management technique used for providing constructive criticism. A negative
“filling” is layered between positive “crusts” to make it more palatable.

In the case of the latest in Braun’s Masterpieces series, there is a lot of filling, while the bread slices are wafer thin. There may
be “Masterpieces” in the title, but this whirlwind tour of 69 bridge projects around the world is far from a magnum opus. To
continue the sandwich speak, this book is likely to leave you with indigestion.

On a positive note, there are many fascinating projects featured within this stylish 300 page publication. However, there is
no clear rationale given for the choice of schemes, and the book’s fundamental purpose is nebulous.

Bridges are arranged by country, with emphasis given to a small clutch of nations including Austria, Germany, Britain and the
USA. Some projects are completed, others still in development, while all types of bridge are featured, ranging from tiny
footbridges to massive infrastructure projects. There are even bridges more akin to buildings, such as the dramatic car park
at Stuttgart’s Neue Messe, which spans a major highway, and the 1km-long Five Climates Crossing, planned as the main
structure for the Xian International Horticultural Expo in China.

It is this scattergun approach that fails to give the book a coherent message or narrative. It is uncertain who this book is
aimed at (engineers, architects, the general public?) and whether its true intent is simply as a source of visual inspiration.

Each scheme gets four to six pages, largely filled with high-quality photographs. The text is tantalisingly brief, translated into
three different languages, making it look wordier than it really is. The highly complex Øresund Bridge - completed a decade
ago, so seems rather aged to be featured - is dispensed with in a mere 109 words. Captions are short and uninformative,
while credits are inconsistent, sometimes failing to name the engineer involved.

This absence of information is often highly frustrating. The winning entry in the design ideas competition for the Diomede
Archipelago Crossing of the Bering Straits, is described in architect-speak as an “infrastructure path” with a “natural park”.
There are photos of icy landscapes, a visualisation of a golden line snaking across the ocean, plus a cross-section appearing
to show a tubular double-deck construction. But having meditated on the scheme’s four pages for a while, I was none the
wiser as to the true nature of this intriguing project.

As a positive final “crust”, the book amusingly adds a new term to the canon of bridge typologies: the lounge bridge. This is
the term used to describe the Amanogawa Bridge in Japan’s Tokachi Millennium Forest. It’s tricky to discern from the semi-
abstract photos and all-too-brief text, but I’m guessing it’s a small timber crossing that doubles-up as a viewing platform.

Published in Bridge Design & Engineering, first quarter issue, 2010