T. Y. Lin Lecture

Keynote Speaker

Man-Chun Tang

T.Y. Lin International, China

Aesthetic Value of Bridges

In his book, “The Bridge and the Tower,” David Billington of Princeton University described bridge design as “structural art,” which can be equated to architecture in buildings. However,in his opinion, bridge aesthetics should not be handled by architects but by engineers. He listed the three characteristics of a well-designed bridge as having “efficiency, economy, and elegance.” He especially emphasized the virtue of efficiency. In Billington’s opinion, an efficient structure would necessarily look better. This is in contrast with architecture, wherein decorative elements oftentimes have no practical purpose in and of themselves.

Billington’s criteria are certainly true for long-span bridges which are situated far from the city and nowhere near any buildings. City bridges, however, are typically juxtaposed with many buildings or other types of structures. In these cases, being harmonious with the urban surroundings is just as important. Such a bridge can be less efficient and more expensive in some cases. Then the question becomes, “What should the acceptable added cost be for such a bridge?” This question can be applied to the maintenance of such bridges as well. Sadly, there are many beautiful bridges in disrepair.