The Role of Aesthetics in Bridge Design

by Santiago Rodriguez, P.E.,

Document Type: Proceeding Paper

Part of: Structures Congress 2008: Crossing Borders


The role of aesthetics in current bridge design practice varies widely. Many bridgeprojects in the United States are developed without including aesthetics as one of theproject goals. Most bridges are part of a highway system that is the responsibility ofState Department of Transportations (DOTs) supported by the Federal HighwayAdministration (FHWA). According to the FHWA office of Bridge Technology, atthe end of 2006, there were 597,479 bridges in the United States. Culverts, slabs, andmulti-girder structures are the structural types used for more than 90% of thosebridges. The relevance of aesthetics in bridge design depends on the individual DOT.Some DOTs have developed aesthetic guidelines for bridge design; however, mostbridge projects do not include aesthetics as a consideration. Nonetheless, there is growing number of high profile bridge projects that requirethat bridge engineers include aesthetics as a key design consideration. The aestheticgoals are frequently stated in terms of satisfying the desires of the local community orcreating a landmark structure of symbolic character. Owners and bridge engineersalike are challenged to incorporate aesthetics requirements into their work, but theyoften lack the training and experience necessary to be successful. Bridge engineersoften concentrate on functionality, structural efficiency and cost, while the task ofincorporating aesthetics into bridge projects is assigned to bridge architects. Thisapproach has sometimes resulted in significantly over budget bridge projects whichrequired a complete redesigned in order to be built.

Subject Headings: Bridge design | Aesthetics | Bridge engineering | Project management | Highway bridges | Federal government | Bridges | Highway transportation | United States

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