Paolo Soleri’s Bridge Design Collection: Connecting Metaphor

© Foundation

“Of all things that are man-made, bridges are, with dams, the most “structural,” single-minded, and imposing. As connectors at a breaking point, they have a heroic force that is aided by a challenging structuralism. As a strand of continuity in a non-continuum, the bridge is full of implied meanings. It is the opposite of devisiveness, separation, isolation, irretrievability, loss, segregation, abandonment. To bridge is as cogent in the psychic realm as it is in the physical world. The bridge is a symbol of confidence and trust. It is a communications medium as much as a connector.”

-Paolo Soleri, 1970, from “The Sketchbooks of Paolo Soleri”, published by MIT Press, 1971
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“I do not know how much of this has caused me to be attracted by the design of bridges. It is possibly the clear-cut purpose of the bridge that permits reflection of the single-mindedness of the problem into the single-mindedness of the conceptual process. There is meaning aplenty grafted onto a simple purpose, an ideal subject for the imaginative mind if the mind accepts the discipline that gravity and matter impose. The bridge, like the dam, is very much of a bottleneck to which something pervasive converges and diverges. In the dam is the water with its load of vivifying power. On the bridge are people, software and hardware, a more loaded cargo already manipulated by life. As hinges to a vast network of stresses, they both imply and forecast compression and contraction on specific constituents of life.”

-Paolo Soleri, 1970, from “The Sketchbooks of Paolo Soleri”, published by MIT Press, 1971

© Cosanti Foundation

Soleri designed the Beast bridge for the book “The Architecture of Bridges” by Elizabeth Mock, published by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, 1948.

The proposal is for a long-span highway bridge of reinforced concrete. Its winged flanges are convex at the piers, then soar up and over in a reverse curve to embrace the roadway at mid-span. There are no separate elements – only the attenuated multi-curved slab, one with the piers from which it springs. Essentially the bridge is a tube – carved away where superfluous and turned inside out at the pier.

Excerpts from a 4-page brochure about the BEAST BRIDGE, published in 1959 by UNIVERSAL ATLAS CEMENT COMPANY:

This graceful, long-span concrete bridge, as designed by Paolo Soleri, is (1) an advanced study of the potential of pre-stressed concrete and (2) the honest expression of form evolving from the engineering, materials and methods employed. The structure is seen as a shell-like continuous curled beam which supplies strength wherever it is needed, as in the middle of the span and at the piers. As the material is placed and distributed to accomplish the major structure of the bridge, it folds and unfolds and wraps itself around two levels of straight traffic freeways.

The characteristic elements of this bridge are:

  • Long-span between bearing points.
  • A minimum of vertical dimension in relation to the span.
  • Perfect horizontality of the freeways.
  • Separation of traffic into two levels with a divided highway for each level – trucking and heavy traffic goes below.
  • The central section of each span provides space for a double service station with travelers facilities such as shops and restaurants.
  • The quality of beauty of this bridge is no arbitrary sculptural façade; it stems from the engineering basics involved which achieve maximum structural efficiency of materials and methods.
© Cosanti Foundation

Soleri submitted proposal, “Cosmic Potentials,” to Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1950, incorporating alternative energy sources, such as, solar, wind, tide and hydraulic, into the design for human habitats.

© David DeGomez

Originally developed for a series of bridge and dam designs as a part of Cosmic Potentials in the 50′s, multi-functional bridges incorporate various functions in multi-leveled structures that also work as a physical and cultural bridge.

© David DeGomez
© David DeGomez

A series of multi-functional bridges designed for Luxembourg Bridge Design Competition in 1958. Seven designs are entered; Campanula Bridge, Levitation Bridge, Balance Bridge, Helium Bridge, Spanning Bridge, Omega Bridge and Flight Bridge. The competition was sponsored by the Luxembourg government. According to the project outlines, the bridge was to be suspended 75 m above ground and spanning 502 m to provide an opportunity for urban expansion.

© David DeGomez
© David DeGomez
© David DeGomez
© David DeGomez
© David DeGomez
© David DeGomez
© David DeGomez

Multi-function bridges incorporate various functions in multi-leveled structures that also work as a physical and cultural bridge. The series includes Single Cantilever Bridge, Double Cantilever Bridge, Ramp Bridge, Tubular Bridge, Bow Bridge and few more.

© David DeGomez
© David DeGomez
© David DeGomez

Pulse bridges are variations in multi-functional structures. Their main characteristics are multi-layered bridge decking system suspended by cables extended from large pylons generally hinged at the bottom. It also responds dynamically to the weight of traffic load by displaying visual features such as cascading water in the course of day, therefore it pulsates with the rhythm of the city.

© David DeGomez

Scottsdale Public Art commissioned and constructed Paolo Soleri’s first bridge. The project, in design for more than 20 years, was completed and dedicated in December 2010. The project represents the culmination of 60 years of Paolo Soleri’s bridge designs. The Soleri Bridge and Plaza incorporate hallmarks of Paolo Soleri’s signature style.

© Bill Timmerman

The bridge is designed to bring awareness of our human connection to the sun and the natural world. The earth’s rotation each day and the sun’s location with relation to the earth are both keyed to the bridge’s true north axis location and the 80 degree angle of the pylons. It is this symmetry that allows the shaft of light to filter through the 6-inch gap between the pylons to illuminate the red strip and move the shadow along the bridge. Each solar noon, which can vary up to 40 minutes from twelve o’clock noon, light coming through the gap produces a shadow. Depending upon the time of year, the length of the sun’s shadow varies.

© Bill Timmerman

At each summer solstice, June21st, when the sun is highest in the sky, there is no shadow. At each winter solstice, December 21st, when the sun is lowest in the sky, its shadow is the longest, reaching to the bridge structure. The red strip follows the shadow and perceptually leads the viewer across the bridge.

The 130-foot long pedestrian bridge is anchored by two 64-foot pylons and is twenty-seven feet wide on the south side narrowing to eighteen feet on the north. It connects the Scottsdale Waterfront to the south bank of the Arizona Canal linking retail, restaurants, Fashion Square Mall, and Old Town Scottsdale.

© Cosanti Foundation

The earth cast panels that surround the plaza were individually designed by Paolo Soleri and Roger Tomalty. They replicate the slip form and cast wall motif representative of Cosanti and . All the panels were produced at Cosanti, Dr. Soleri’s studio on Doubletree Road in Scottsdale. Each panel weighs approximately 350 pounds. Ten panels frame the southern boundary of the plaza with a larger, eleventh panel framing the north side of the bridge.

Scottsdale’s downtown boasts the only bridge in the world designed by Paolo Soleri.

References: www.arcosanti.org
Photography: David DeGomez, Cosanti Foundation, Yuki Yanagimoto, Bill Timmerman

Cite: Lopez, Oscar. "Paolo Soleri’s Bridge Design Collection: Connecting Metaphor" 11 Sep 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 26 Jul 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=163889>

3 comments

  1. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    I’m pretty sure… his works were ‘The Secrete Source Book’ for some currently successful architects, although they won’t admit it. Instead usually, they will praise the work of Jean Prouve for their inspirations….. Pure Hypocrite.

  2. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    These drawings are amazing. I had not seen some of them before. I agree with nis – there definitely are some similarities between these and some ‘starchitects’ styles. I see the seattle library, a zaha bridge, etc. Someone needs to write an article about these similarities!

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