Arts Viaduct Love
posted by June 8 at 12:21 PMon
After the great age of Roman building, the art of the viaduct and aqueduct lay fallow for many centuries, until the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain, when the burgeoning network of canals and railways needed ways to to get around each other. The most wonderful of these structures was the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, in Wales, built by the genius Thomas Telford in 1795. This carried the water of the Llangollen or Ellesmere Canal in a cast iron channel over the River Dee. Imagine looking up from a boat on the river in the eighteenth century and seeing the mast of a ship high in the sky above you!
The first great railway viaduct was the Sankey Viaduct, built by George Stephenson in 1830,which carried the first proper railway, The Liverpool and Manchester Railway, over Sankey Brook (part of the Sankey Canal, which was in some ways the first modern canal).
The dreamlike Millau Viaduct in southern France, finished in 2004, and carrying a highway over the valley of the River Tam, is a superlative example of the modern engineer’s freedom from the customary restraints of the earth.
The Lai Chi Kok Viaduct in Hong Kong, currently under construction, is more prosaic but just as technologically challenging.
The viaduct of the Cahill Expressway in Sydney, Australia frames the bustling heart of the most beautiful harbor in the world (center right in photo).
Our own entry in this catalog of pathways through the sky is the beautiful and functional Alaskan Way Viaduct, which elevates hundreds of thousands of cars above the city and the heads of its residents, allowing them to pass freely beneath between the commercial districts and the waterfront.
While some malcontents complain of dark and gloom and noise and dripping dankness, they are insensible to its considerable charms. Concrete, humankind’s most versatile and beautiful material, acquires a sumptuous grey-green patina after bathing in decades of rain, mildew, and exhaust, and glows with a depth that mere stone requires centuries or millennia to acquire.
The bold unadorned structural elements speak of the unpretentious working life of the blue-collar city, speeding aircraft mechanics, waitresses, longshoremen and administrative assistants to their jobs. It also provides anyone with a car the spectacular Puget Sound views that would otherwise belong only to those in expensive downtown condominiums. It also forms a cohesive whole with the seawall that keeps the city from sliding into Elliott Bay on its foundation of slippery mud. Surely this is a triumph not only of the engineering and construction arts, but the urbanized aesthetic beauty of a great regional center?