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6 Reasons why Bridge Engineering

I will always remember my very first day at university – we were welcomed by our professor and in a presentation she showed us the whole scale of construction projects.  Little surprise – we students were most impressed by the cable-supported bridges which came right at the end of the introduction. Our professor would close in saying that she can’t promise we will have the opportunity to work on projects like that – but that during our studies we will learn how to design such bridges. Almost 20 years later, I can say that I had plenty of opportunity to work on great bridge projects and my work is still exciting every day. So – why is bridge engineering such a fascinating subject?

1. Clear Purpose

There are few civil engineering structures with such a clear and straight-forward purpose: connect A to B. That’s it. Of course, the passage provided should safe and comfortable and we’d appreciate it if the design is easy to the eye. But still, it’s the connection that counts.

2. Sheer Scale

It doesn’t need to be a cable-stayed structure, but the scale of bridges is often overwhelming. Girders that measure several meters in depth or towers with the footprint of an office building. While working on a bridge design, sometimes you have to remind yourself of the fact that the “detail” you are looking at measures 10 meters!

3. Understandable Structural System

While structural systems of high-rise buildings or other engineering structures are buried or hidden by the facade – bridges give away how they work. At least for the engineer they do so… Easily, you can follow tension and compression, make out locations of stress concentration or breather joints of the structure.

4. No-nonsense Design

Bridges are (or supposed to be) the minimum solution to the given problem. Each structural member, utility or coating serves a given purpose – often two or more at the same time. Still – great bridges do have architectural design – but one that links functionality with aesthetics (I love the work of Knight Architects for exactly doing that!).

5. Location

The lesson of most site visits: the bridge is in the middle of nowhere! The isolated location of many bridges makes them even more outstanding. Instead of being located in the city center, many bridges are the only structure for hundreds of kilometers or so. That might complicate construction but guarantees a great setting.

6. Engineering Ingenuity

Yes – it’s complicated… As a bridge engineer, you need to know your stuff and actually use iton a daily basis. Structure-soil interaction, wind dynamics or seismic design – all demanding specialties on their own. But isn’t that the part of a great job – to be challenged?

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