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Monday, July 19, 2010

Pedestrian Bridge over the river Carpinteira

Pedestrian Bridge over the river Carpinteira, Covilhã, Portugal by João Luís Carrilho da Graça

Photographs are by Fernando Guerra - FG+SG. Project spotted at

Bridges, be they for vehicles or pedestrians, serve to connect point A and point B. So naturally bridges tend to take the shortest route, a straight line, although extremely long bridges may curve to follow terrain. But structural and economic efficiency, among other factors, make the direct route predominate. This situation means the winding Pedestrian Bridge over the river Carpinteira by João Luís Carrilho da Graça is a standout.

Resembling a stretched Z when seen from above, the bridge is about 220 meters (770 feet) long. The architect notes that the center section is positioned to be perpendicular to the valley it rises above, and "the other two sections are inflected and oriented towards their anchoring points." In other words, the starting points were set and then the zig-zag was formed after turning the central section slightly to perpendicular. I'm not sure if there is any advantage for this route beyond the experiential, such as the placement of the pylons relative to what is happening below and/or the span of the horizontal structure. It seems arbitrary but amazing.

Part of the bridge's drama is obvious: the views of the Serra da Estrela mountain range. Architecturally the drama arises from the slenderness of the horizontal profile and the simplicity of its design. A U-shaped walkway section reads like a white box resting on rectangular pylons, all rendered in white. Only round columns of concrete and stone and the wood walkway itself veer from the white planarity that gives the bridge a minimal but alien presence in the natural and urban landscape.

Traversing the bridge, wood predominates on the walkway and the guardrail. The latter is capped by white metal, helping the bridge read as a simple object from a distance. The wood planks underfoot run perpendicular to one's movement. Guardrail wood runs vertically, almost like an extension of the floor boards, except for the gap between the two that houses linear lighting, quite dramatic after sunset. It is in traversing the bridge that the winding plan makes sense. A straight line would reduce the impact of the surroundings, regardless of their drama, because the goal is in sight. The zig-zag gives shifting perspectives of the landscape, so even if one's eyes don't veer from straight ahead he or she takes in more of the surrounding beauty.

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