Institution President, Ian Firth, discusses six structures completed in 1937 - part of a continuing series looking at interesting structures celebrating anniversaries in 2017.

Now here is a really interesting bunch of structures. 1937 seems to have been a good year for bridges! This is the year of the Golden Gate, and we even have a bridge by one of my heroes, the Swiss engineer Robert Maillart! But we also have a couple of pretty special buildings too, which I hope you find interesting.

This is the fifth of my twelve monthly episodes, having started in January. I hope you have been enjoying these selections. I would love to get some feedback, particularly about your favourite anniversary structures which I have missed. These 80-year old examples were all completed in 1937 (although some have had work done since) and all are still in use today.

1 Chelsea Bridge, London

This well-known bridge (at least to Londoners) crosses the River Thames between Chelsea on the north bank and Battersea on the south. It is in fact the second bridge at this location, on the site of an ancient ford.

Chelsea Bridge
(Image source: Wikimedia Commons, Photo: Alexander P Kapp)

The first Chelsea Bridge was proposed in the 1840s as part of a major development of marshlands on the south bank to form the new Battersea Park. It was initially known as Victoria Bridge after Queen Victoria, the reigning monarch.

It was a suspension bridge, intended to provide convenient access from the densely populated north bank to the new park. Work on the nearby Chelsea Embankment delayed construction so the bridge did not open until 1858. Initially, tolls were charged in an effort to recoup the cost of the bridge, but this made it unpopular with the public and the bridge was less of a commercial success than had been anticipated. This was made worse by competition from the newly built Albert Bridge nearby, so it was made toll-free on Sundays to generate more interest.

It was acquired by the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1877 and the tolls were eventually abolished in 1879. Unfortunately, the bridge was found to be structurally unsound, leading the authorities to rename it Chelsea Bridge to avoid any potential embarrassment to the Queen should it collapse, by association with her name. Due to the introduction of the automobile and increased traffic in the 1920s a new bridge was required anyway. So the old one was demolished and replaced by the current structure, which was built entirely with materials sourced from within the British Empire and opened in 1937.

The new bridge was the first self-anchored suspension bridge in Britain. This is different from the more conventional form of suspension bridge, in that instead of anchoring the cables to foundations in the ground they are fixed to the ends of the bridge deck. The main effect is that the horizontal component of tension from the cables is resisted by axial compression in the bridge deck, and from a construction point of view you have to build the deck first before erecting the cables (which is the other way round to a normal suspension bridge). The most famous recent example of a self-anchored suspension bridge is the notorious (some would say infamous and eye-wateringly expensive) Bay Bridge in San Francisco.

The first Chelsea Bridge
The first Chelsea Bridge, London. (Image public domain)

Chelsea Bridge has twin steel box girders, one down each side, suspended from the suspension cables, and the towers stand on very clearly expressed "pinned" connections on top of the river piers, which makes for a very legible and easy to understand structural system.

During the early 1950s the bridge became popular with motorcyclists, who staged regular races across it. One such meeting in 1970 erupted into violence, resulting in the death of one man and the imprisonment of 20 others. It is still regularly used as a meeting place for motorcyclists on certain evenings.

Chelsea Bridge is floodlit from below during the hours of darkness, when the towers and cables are illuminated by 285 m of LEDs. It achieved Grade II listed status in 2008.

2 The Big Creek Bridge, California

The Big Creek Bridge is an unusual double-arched reinforced concrete bridge with cantilevered half-arch side spans. It is located on California's Bug Sur in spectacular scenery along Highway 1, and its completion in 1937 opened up the highway through the Big Sur region. The bridge is about 45 miles north of the Hearst Castle area and 44 miles south of the Carmel River Bridge. Prison labour was used in its construction.

Big Creek Bridge
(Image Source: Wikimedia Commons, Photo: Mike Peel)

This striking arch bridge is one of the historic concrete arch bridges built in the 1930s. The total length of the bridge is just over 179m, and each arch has a span of 54m. The open spandrel design looks good in this dramatic scenery, accentuating the shape of the arches, particularly from a distance. However, up close at the abutments I think the way the half arches terminate in mid-air looks a bit uncomfortable and somehow incomplete.

The bridge received a substantial seismic retrofit in 1999, which was all the more challenging due to its unusual double arch. The retrofit design was carried out (by my colleagues in COWI as it happens) using a site specific spectrum corresponding to a maximum credible earthquake, and included longitudinal deck post-tensioning, CIDH piles at the abutments, column strengthening, and confinement of the spandrel columns. 

3  De Kuip, (Feyenoord Stadium), Rotterdam

Stadion Feijenoord, more commonly known by its nickname "De Kuip", is a stadium in Rotterdam that was completed in 1937. The name is derived from the area "Feijenoord" in Rotterdam, and from the club with the same name (although the club's name was internationalized to Feyenoord in 1973). The stadium's original capacity was 64,000, but as a result of various renovations, including prior to its use as a venue in the Euro 2000 tournament, its capacity has been reduced to around 51,000.

Leen van Zandvliet, Feyenoord's president in the 1930s, came up with the idea of building an entirely new stadium, unlike any other on the continent, with two free hanging tiers and no obstacles blocking the view. Contemporary examples were Highbury in London, where the West and East stands had recently been built as a double deck, and Yankee Stadium in New York City.

Johannes Brinkman and Leendert van der Vlugt, the famous designers of the van Nelle factories in Rotterdam were asked to design a stadium of glass, concrete and steel. The stadium was co-financed by the billionaire, Daniël George van Beuningen, who made his fortune in World War I exporting coal from Germany to Britain through the neutral Netherlands. In World War II, the stadium was nearly torn down for scrap by German occupiers. 

Feyenoord Stadium
 (Image source: WikimediaCommons, Photo: Валерий Дед)

In 1994 it was extensively renovated to an all seater stadium with the roof extended to cover more of the seats. It is considered by many to be the finest stadium in the Netherlands, with its unrivalled atmosphere where spectators are close to the pitch, and where many legendary matches have been hosted, including major European club finals. The reason for its popularity is simple: every player of every club wants to play at De Kuip.

Of course the stadium is best known as the home of Feyenoord Rotterdam and its Legion of fans. The passion of Feyenoord’s loyal support makes every home match a special experience. Due to the many great achievements that Feyenoord and De Kuip have experienced together, both club and stadium have become icons of the city of Rotterdam.

4    Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

Bridges don't get much more famous than this! What is it that makes it so well known?  Is it the name? The location? The fact that it has featured in countless films? The unique design of the towers which makes it recognisable anywhere? Or perhaps it is the colour – that International Orange colour which makes it so characteristic? Whatever it is, we are celebrating 80 years since its completion in 1937.

The suspension bridge has an overall length of 2737m and main span of 1280m. At the time this was the longest single span in the world – a record which was not broken until 1964 when the Verrazano Narrows bridge was completed in New York with a span of 1298m.

The bridge links the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula to Marin County, and carries both U.S. Route 101 and California State Route 1 across the Golden Gate strait. 

Golden Gate Bridge
 (Image Source Wikimedia Commons, Photo: David Ball)

Many experts said that a bridge could not be built because of frequent strong winds and the strong, swirling tides and currents with water 113 m deep at the centre of the channel. They claimed that the ferocious winds and blinding fogs would prevent construction and operation.

In 1916, an idea for a bridge appeared in the San Francisco Bulletin, and the City Engineer called for proposals. One who responded was Joseph Strauss, an ambitious engineer and poet who had completed some 400 opening bridges, though nothing on the scale of this new project. Strauss's initial drawings were for a massive cantilever on each side of the strait, connected by a central suspension segment.

This was considered unacceptable from a visual standpoint, and the local authorities agreed to proceed only if he changed the design and accepted input from several expert consultants. A suspension bridge was considered the appropriate solution, and the final design was conceived and championed by Leon Moisseiff, famous as the engineer of the Manhattan Bridge in New York and also of the ill-fated Tacoma Narrows Bridge near Seattle (which collapsed during strong winds in 1941).

So, although Joseph Strauss is generally credited as the designer and was the chief engineer in charge of overall design and construction of the project, responsibility for much of the design fell on other experts because he had little understanding or experience with cable supported bridges. In addition to Moisseiff, senior engineer, Charles Alton Ellis, was also appointed as principal engineer of the project. Ellis also designed the steel arch span - a "bridge within a bridge" - in the southern abutment, to avoid the need to demolish Fort Point, a pre-Civil War masonry fortification considered worthy of historic preservation. 

Irving Morrow, a relatively unknown architect, designed the overall shape of the bridge towers, the lighting scheme, and Art Deco elements (such as the tower decorations), streetlights, railing, and walkways. The famous "International Orange" colour was originally used as a sealant for the bridge. The US Navy had wanted it to be painted with black and yellow stripes to ensure visibility by passing ships (!!) but happily this was not implemented and the familiar rusty red colour was used throughout.

5  Vessy Bridge, Switzerland

This reinforced concrete road bridge is a three-hinged arch with a span of 56m over the Arve River at Geneva. The arch supports a deck 10.1m wide overall, carrying a two-lane roadway and two footpaths. The vertical distance between the centre and support hinges is only 4.8m, giving a span-to-rise ratio of 11.7; a very shallow profile.

Towards the end of his career, Swiss engineer, Robert Maillart, (1872-1940) developed further the three-hinge arch concrete bridge system he had been using for some time and started designing the Arve Bridge (Pont de Vessy) in 1934.  His ideas for it had evolved from the Thur Bridge (Thurbrücke, 1933) at Felsegg, north east Switzerland, where he had first used a pointed arch. At Vessy, the arch is flatter and was constructed in three parallel sections, done economically by re-use of one set of centring. The bridge also features unusual X-shaped cross walls. 

Vessy Bridge
 (Image source: Wikimedia Commons, Photo: Ikiwaner)

In July 1935, the concept design was approved by Geneva’s public works department, and the contract was put out to tender. The eight bids received in September 1935 ranged from 74,819 to 87,637 Swiss Francs, all well below Maillart's estimate.

The three upstanding longitudinal walls, or ribs, together with the arch form two hollow boxes, closed at the top in the centre of the bridge, where the walls meet the deck. At the outer ends of the span, the ribs become U-shaped channels as the walls decrease in height down to the support hinges, leaving triangular cut-outs between rib, deck and abutment.

The ribs are 630mm thick at the central hinge and 440mm thick at the support hinges, while the base of each rib is 150mm thick between hinges. The side walls of each rib are 120mm thick where the section forms a box, and 200-280mm thick where it is a channel.

Maillart also moved the support hinges from the abutments into the span. The central hinge of the arch omits the protruding block of his earlier schemes. Instead, the hinge is expressed by a simple vertical joint, emphasising the pointedness of the arch.
 Grafitti under Vessy Bridge
(Graffiti artists show no respect! Photo: Хрюша)

Connecting the arch to the deck are rows of independent concrete cross-walls (piers almost), distinctively X-shaped in elevation, mirroring the profile of the bending moments acting on them. The walls are 180mm thick and 1.9m wide where they meet the deck and the arch, but only 300mm wide at the 'waist'.

The bridge's hinges are reinforced with hooked steel rods crossing diagonally through the concrete, 32mm in diameter in the central hinge and 35mm in diameter in the support hinges. Slots for timber and cork pads are included, which take up any movement in the bridge.

The bridge has been refurbished a few times since 1968, with areas of spalled concrete being removed and protective treatment added to the corroded reinforcement. The bridge was listed in 1986 and remains in use today.

6  Taliesin West, Scottsdale, Arizona

This was the winter home of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright from 1937 until his death in 1959 at the age of 91. Today it is a National Historic Landmark and the main campus of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture and houses the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. It lies in the desert foothills of the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale, Arizona. 

Deeply connected to the desert from which it was forged, Taliesin West possesses an almost prehistoric grandeur. It was built and maintained almost entirely by Wright and his apprentices, making it among the most personal of the architect’s creations. This was a bold new endeavour for desert living. Here Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship tested design innovations, structural ideas, and building details that responded to the dramatic desert setting.

The structure's walls are made of local desert rocks, stacked within wood forms, filled with concrete. Wright always favoured using the materials readily available rather than those that must be transported to the site. (Who said sustainable construction is new?!)

In Wright’s own words: “There were simple characteristic silhouettes to go by, tremendous drifts and heaps of sunburned desert rocks were nearby to be used. We got it all together with the landscape…” The flat surfaces of the rocks were placed outward facing and large boulders filled the interior space so concrete could be conserved.
Taliesin West(Image: Wikimedia Commons, Author: Visitor7)

Natural light also played a major part in the design. In the south-facing dining room, Wright did not take the masonry walls from floor to ceiling, and designed the roof to hang past the walls reducing solar gain by preventing direct sunlight entering but allowing horizontal light to pass through the room. Wright believed natural light aided the work environment, and kept the inside of his building in touch with the natural surroundings.

The view at Taliesin West was critical to its success. In the 1940s Wright waged a battle against overhead power lines on aesthetic grounds. In the late 1940s when power lines appeared within the view of Taliesin West, Wright wrote President Harry S. Truman, demanding they be buried. It was a losing battle. So after briefly considering rebuilding in Tucson, he "turned his back on the valley," moving the entrance to the rear of the main building.
Taliesin West image 2(Image Source: Wikimedia Commons, Author: John Fowler) 

Are any other structures celebrating 80 year anniversaries this year? Let us know below.

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