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It sounds like you have a lot of experience in the industry so I would very much like to have a good discussion about the aesthetic appearance of bridges. With that a little of my background…
I have a minimal background in architecture. My undergraduate degree was in architectural engineering and we take a few studios and architectural history class in our curriculum, so I have been exposed to aesthetic design concepts. I also have a masters in structural engineering and my thesis project was the design of a major river bridge. Of course this was only an academic exercise but the project is a real world project currently under construction. I have been working in a design office for about a year and a half so I have barely nicked the ice berg in the industry. Please acknowledge my lack of experience and take just about everything as my personal opinion, I am more than willing to listen and learn.
I scanned the first few pages of the document you linked to and it seemed to note many of the major ideas that bridge engineers use when considering the aesthetics of a new bridge. In a sense, form equals function. Meaning that it is bigger where it needs to be and smaller where it needs to be, or proportioning. I think this is a major part of aesthetics of any structure. Don’t hide the function of the structure with the form. It seems that you don’t agree with this practice, can you explain why?
I don’t find deck plate girder bridges unappealing in general and for many, many bridges it is the by and far the most economical bridge type to use. They are also easy to build and relatively easy to maintain. The decks are lasting longer and there is a vast amount of research to see that the right materials and curing methods are used to ensure a long bridge life especially related to the deck.
Not all bridges can be what I have come to learn is a ‘Signature Bridge’, they are few and far between. There is also no reason for every bridge to be a ‘Signature Bridge’, these are reserved for long spans where the engineering methods and materials are going to be stretched to the design limits. A 50 to 250 ft bridge is not a stretch for engineering methods or materials, they are routine bridges and they have to be because they are so common. Now, this does not mean the design or aesthetics should suffer but it is possible to have a fairly standard, aesthetically pleasing bridge and I think most of them are. I actually find it aesthetically unappealing when an inefficient bridge type is used. For example cable-stayed bridges are the new ‘cool’ thing to do in the US and every major city seems to want one but they are only start to become efficient at about 1000ft+ however they are used for much smaller spans because everyone wants one. I think this is bad design because the function (span 500ft) does not equal the form (use a bridge that is efficient for 1000ft+).
Finally, I wonder to myself sometimes how many people actually notice the aesthetics of bridges or the architecture of buildings. I think maybe subconsciously it is noticed or if it inconveniences people it will be brought up but in general I don’t think many people really pay much attention. I also think this is part of good design. The general public shouldn’t notice good design, that’s what makes it good design. It serves its purpose and allows people to go about their day without being inconvenienced by bad design.
This is just my perspective on aesthetics of bridges. I could add more but this is getting out of hand so I will stop for now and await your reply.