AE3: Habitable Bridges

Using a bridge for something more than the movement of people and goods is not a new thing, as Italy's surviving Rialto Bridge (Venice) and Ponte Vecchio (Florence) attest. But their use for more than small kiosks, as habitable bridges, if you will, is a recent concept most overtly embraced by Steven Holl.

Back in the late 70's and early 80's Holl created a couple speculative projects for the Bronx and Manhattan, published as Pamphlet Architecture 1 and 7, respectively. The Gymnasium Bridge project linked the South Bronx to Randalls Island and the former, the Bridge of Houses project, sited dwellings on the High Line, which is being reused in a much less "habitable", but no less ambitious way.

[Steven Holl's Gymansium Bridge (L) and Bridge of House (R) projects | source for both images]

About a decade later, in Holl's winning but unfortunately unbuilt entry to the Amerika-Gedenkbibliothek competition for Berlin's main library, he made a massive bowstring truss spanning from one arm of the building to the other the children's library, where the sloped floor would allow kids to lie down while reading. Unlike the two projects above, this design makes a strong formal statement with the bridge, emphasizing the importance of it in the project and Holl's thinking on this architectural element.

[Model of Steven Holl's Amerika-Gedenkbibliothek | image source]

It took Holl another 20 years before he actually built what I'm calling a habitable bridge, with the Linked Hybrid mixed-use development in Beijing, China, now under construction. According to the architect, "This 'city within a city' envisions urban space-as well as all the activities that can support the daily life of over 2500 inhabitants. The 8 towers are linked at the 20th floor by a ring of cafes and services."

[Linked Hybrid in Beijing, China by Steven Holl | image source]

[Linked Hybrid in Beijing, China by Steven Holl | image source]

But, as can be seen in the plans and sections below, functions like a cafe, bookstore, and even a swimming pool are located in the ring between the buildings, not just alongside the tower cores. So this bridge becomes circulation and something else, whatever function is ascribed. Aside from the swimming pool (something I was shocked to find between buildings, given the water's weight, but the column free span does make it the natural place for it) the other spans look more flexible, so their functions will probably change over time; will a bookstore survive 20 floors up? Surely this ring brings to mind Le Corbusier's Unite d'habitation in Marseilles, France, whose raised shop level is used mainly for offices; mixed-use yet, but transformed from its intentions, as should occur here.

[Linked Hybrid in Beijing, China by Steven Holl | image scanned from a+t's Density Projects | Click image for larger view with proper orientation]

Another project, one that could most suitably be called a habitable bridge, is the Heavy/Light House in Cadyville, New York (2004) by Dan Hisel Design.

[Rendering of Heavy/Light House by Dan Hisel | image source]

According to the architect, "The Heavy/Light House project involves the conversion of a privately owned, abandoned railroad trestle into a guest house for one or two travelers. The program calls for a full bathroom, one bed, a small efficiency kitchen, dining area, living room and deck." Too bad it was never built.

[Plan and section of Heavy/Light House by Dan Hisel | image source]


  1. "But their use for more than small kiosks, as habitable bridges, if you will, is a recent concept"

    Somehow forgot about London Bridge?

  2. Unfortunately I couldn't find this info in english, but Amancio William's (Argentinean architect)house overa stream is a very interesting project back from 1943-45, wiorth to be added to your list.

    BTW, Zaha Hadid is building a bridge pavillion for Expo 2008 in Zaragoza (Spain:

  3. Ooops... I didn't put the first link in my last comment. Here it is:

  4. One more (it seems it's becomming a trend!)

  5. Well said Anonymous.

    Old London bridge, which opened in 1201 and closed in 1831, and was until 1750 the only bridge crossing of the Thames, was inhabited throughout.

    Interesting design as well: the roof beams of the houses helped tie the bridge. It certainly lasted well.

    Alas, we didn't preserve it.

  6. You might be interested in the work-of-genius bridge in Columbus, Ohio which spans a freeway:

  7. Thanks for all the good links. I must admit the extent of London Bridge's habitation slipped my mind. Needless to say, I need to keep broad statements like that in check.

    That house in Argentina is something else; a habitable bridge if there ever was one.

  8. One more inhabited Bridge:
    In the Capital of the german province of Thüringen, Erfurt, is the famous Krämerbrücke (Merchants' Bridge) - completed in 1325. It spannes the river Gera, has on the east end even a church.

  9. OLB had a chapel, a penance construction by Henry II who had been responsible for the assassination by other hands of Thomas a Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury.

    I mean, if you read some reports, the bridge seems to have operated as a (small but perfectly formed) river city. :)) (and of course it had drawbridges to close the thoroughfare to marauders, etc.)

    Fabo site btw - I drool every time I visit.

    (And it's nice to have a bit to add for a change.)

  10. Steven Holl discussed this project during a recent lecture at Berkeley. He mentioned that when he designed the development, he had no idea how it would actually get built. It wasn't until construction was well underway that he first saw the massive, custom-lifting system designed by the chinese engineers to move the bridges into place - thereby allowing them to be built on the ground.

    It was a fantastic lecture. Steven Holl is a gifted architect and inspiring speaker.


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