History and Esthetics in Suspension Bridges

by David P. Billington, (M.ASCE), Prof.; Dept. of Civ. Engrg., Princeton Univ., Princeton, N.J.,

Serial Information: Journal of the Structural Division, 1977, Vol. 103, Issue 8, Pg. 1655-1672

Document Type: Journal Paper


The George Washington Bridge raised two fundamental problems in the history and esthetics of bridge design: (1)The relationship between esthetic preference and structural performance; and (2)the relationship between the architecture of bridges and their engineering. The first relationship was put in terms of the flexible deck: the George Washington Bridge, as originally completed in 1931, had almost no vertical stiffness. The second relationship arose in the design of the towers, for which architectural plans envisioned masonry forms while engineering requirements dictated a steel structure. Thus, that design followed from two questionable assumptions: (1)The deck could be without vertical stiffness; and (2)the steel towers should be covered with a masonry facade. The first led directly to the failure of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1940, and the second carried forward the idea that in large-scale structures, the engineering form needed an architectural facade to be elegant.

Subject Headings: Bridge design | Suspension bridges | History | Aesthetics | Bridge decks | Stiffening | Masonry | Steel structures | Washington | United States | Tacoma

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