Inder Sidhu in Doing Both (FT Press, 2010) makes a strong case for the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco as the most beautiful bridge in the world, because it combines two things at once: beauty and strength.
The challenge of designing and building the bridge were significant. “The bridge needed to span 6,700 feet across a strait pounded by 60 mile an hour winds. It needed to withstand earthquakes and be tall enough to accommodate the largest ships passing beneath its deck. The notorious fog made construction difficult. And the bridge needed to overcome these obstacles without disturbing the natural beauty of the San Francisco bay.”
The movement to build the bridge was begun in 1916 by journalist James Wilkins who wrote an editorial proposing to build a bridge “on the grandest scale”: not only a road but a work of art.
The initial design by engineer Joseph Straus was utilitarian and ugly: a combination of cantilever and suspension bridge. He was joined in due course by engineer Leon Moisseiff who theorized that the bridge needed to flex and bend in the wind to withstand strong gusts. And architect Irving Morrow contributed the design with wide towers, expansive lighting and the famous red hue which blends with the surrounding hillsides, yet is visible through the fog.
Why is the Bay Bridge more famous than its nearby bigger neighbor, the Bay Bridge, which is the longest high-level steel bridge in the world?
The answer, says Sidhu, is that Bay Bridge merely gets the job done: it is useful but ugly. The Golden Gate Bridge, by contrast, lifts up the human spirit by being both useful and beautiful. Like great athletes, or ballerinas, or organizations, it combines flexibility with strength.
For the runner-up bridges, go here.
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