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by Ursula Baus
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 53.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Structure - design - history, 1 July 2008
This review is from: Footbridges (Hardcover)
"Footbridges" is subtitled "structure - design - history". While those three little words may seem fairly obvious, this first ever major survey of fussgängerbrücken is unusual amongst coffee-table gephyrophilia in that it does actually address how (foot)bridges are designed, not just what they look like. And understanding whether a bridge design is any good relies in great part on understanding why it is how it is. In large part that's because coauthor Mike Schlaich is a practising bridge engineer.

The book includes a lengthy (40-page) history of footbridge design and construction. This is no small thing, as the history of footbridges is to a great extent the history of bridges - the earliest timber, stone and rope bridges were all footbridges, and many of the great experimental developments in bridge engineering were first attempted on footbridges, particularly the earliest suspension bridges. This historical survey introduces several great structures both well-known and little-known, with great photographs. I particularly enjoyed the coverage of vernacular bridge designs that were unremarkable historically but widespread, such as David Rowell's suspension bridge at Ilkley, one of a number of similar structures that dot the British Isles (and beyond).

The bulk of the book is taken up with descriptions and photographs (all taken specially for this book) of selected modern footbridges around the world. These include elegant designs by several of the greatest bridge engineers, such as Riccardo Morandi, Fritz Leonhardt, Ulrich Finsterwalder, René Walther and Jiri Strasky. There are bridges that are remarkable, beautiful, puzzling and inspiring, as well as one or two where the merits are much less clear. There are several works of sheer genius, an obligatory Calatrava and a good sampling of Wilkinson Eyre's oeuvre. The book also covers many lesser-known but even more delightful structures.

Schlaich and Baus have identified so many great footbridges that there's an entire chapter devoted to dozens of shorter portraits, including older structures, many of which would have merited three or four pages if space permitted, being every bit as good as the bridges given full coverage. Unfortunately the space restrictions limit the photographs in these pen-portraits to very small monochrome images, which struggle to do justice to several excellent structures.

Although the authors initially seem to have a good critical eye, I think they are too restrained in many instances, with bridges ripe for criticism given the kid-gloves treatment. There are numerous bridges where gentlemanly restraint has triumphed over the possibility of a less deferential critique.

Spliced in between the bridge portraits are a series of short pieces on key issues in the design of modern footbridges - stress ribbon structures; dynamics; curved ring girders; and moveable bridge types. I find it hard to judge how informative these will be to the non-technical reader, as they don't entirely manage to avoid mathematical formulae and force diagrams, but they do at least attempt to explain that the better bridges are the product of the careful consideration both of structural behaviour and construction methods, rather than just a pretty curve or gesture.

Overall, "Footbridges" is an excellent survey of a wide range of interesting structures, many of them not covered in other recent coffee-table assaults on the contemporary bridge, with plenty of excellent photographs that make you want to grab an atlas and plan your next holiday itinerary accordingly. For the professional bridge designer as well as the lay bridge enthusiast, this is not a book to sit proudly on the shelf, but to keep well-thumbed and close at hand.

Eladio Dieste (The engineer's contribution to contemporary architecture)
Eladio Dieste (The engineer's contribution to contemporary architecture)
by Remo Pedreschi
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable pioneer of thin-shell brickwork, 14 Mar 2008
Eladio Dieste was one of the most remarkable structural engineers of the twentieth century. Working mainly within his native Uruguay, he developed humble brickwork into sophisticated structural art. His structures transposed the thin-shell forms of engineers like Candela and Torroja into the realm of reinforced and prestressed brick, highly innovative technically but also very striking visually.

Pedreschi's book doesn't claim to be comprehensive, but does feature many of Dieste's finest buildings. These include the magnificent church at Atlantida, astonishing brick vaults at Montevideo docks, and the frankly bizarre Montevideo shopping mall. Pedreschi goes into great detail on these structures, and explains well how it is that extremely thin curved brickwork shells can stand up.

The book is structured partly chronologically, and partly by building type, moving from free-standing and gaussian vaults through to Dieste's several silos, churches and towers. Although it's very well illustrated it's sadly all in black-and-white. This is a real shame, because colour photos do much better justice to these structures.

The only other book on Dieste that's readily available is by Stanford Anderson, which has larger photos and in colour too. But if you get the Pedreschi book, you'll definitely come away with a great understanding of Dieste's particular genius, and probably never think of brickwork in the same way again.

Sound Art: Beyond Music, Between Catagories (Book & CD)
Sound Art: Beyond Music, Between Catagories (Book & CD)
by Alan Licht
Edition: Hardcover

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Far from definitive, but great pictures, 6 Feb 2008
I can't quite decide what to make of this book. It's a good thing to see a discursive, wide-ranging book on sound art that covers both its practitioners, history, and context. This is a welcome departure from most of the previous books on the subject (Interviews with Sound Artists, Sound by Artists, Site of Sound, Sonic Boom etc) which are essentially compendia of artists' texts or interviews.
Licht tackles his subject under three main headings: What is sound art?; Environment and soundscapes; and Sound and the art world. Much of the book talks around sound art without ever reaching a happy definition, illustrating by example rather than offering a chronology or clear logic. That makes it pleasant enough to read, but very difficult to refer to afterwards. There is a useful section offering potted biographies for 31 sound artists, which is helpful but raises as many questions as it answers: why are several people featured clearly musicians rather than artists, for example? In this respect, it reflects the lack of clarity of the rest of the book.
So while you will read about key sound artists like Christina Kubisch or Max Neuhaus, there's also plenty here about the experimental music fringe, No Wave bands or musique concrete composers. That's all very interesting but seems to detract from the key focus of the book. There are also several omissions (Peter Appleton, Gottfried Willem Raes, Philip Jeck, Disinformation etc) which betray a definite Americocentrism.
One of the best things about the book is the inclusion of numerous well-reproduced photos of installations and sound art events - these are excellent and almost enough on their own to justify the book's publication.
I did enjoy the book - I learnt much that was new and the unwillingness to limit itself to any one approach to sound art allows unpredictable connections to juxtapose and coalesce. But this is not the definitive book on the subject and there's plenty more to be said yet.

Constructing a Bridge: Exploration of Engineering Culture, Design and Research in Nineteenth-century France and America (Inside Technology Series)
Constructing a Bridge: Exploration of Engineering Culture, Design and Research in Nineteenth-century France and America (Inside Technology Series)
by Eda Kranakis
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 43.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A thought-provoking history, 24 Jan 2008
This is a book that could appeal equally to students of bridge design, civil engineering history, or the history of technology. Kranakis comes from the last of those perspectives, and uses the work of two early suspension bridge pioneers to illustrate wider ideas about how engineering design choices are affected by social context.

The first half of the book contrasts James Finley, inventor of the modern suspension bridge, with Claude-Louis-Marie-Henri Navier, whose monumental design for the Pont des Invalides drove forward engineering science but was a never-completed failure. Finley was a practical, experimental, partly self-tought engineer operating in a rural community, and his design was driven by commercial competition against truss alternatives. Navier was a bureaucrat and scientist with a love of mathematical idealism, designing a state-funded bridge which had little real reason for existence.

I was at first most impressed simply by Kranakis' attention to historical detail - these bridges and engineers are discussed elsewhere, but not with this level of careful explanation. But ultimately, I found the book's main reward to lie in how the nineteenth century divide between empiricism and abstraction remains highly relevant to modern bridge engineering.

These issues are brought into sharper focus by the book's second half, which explores the social context for American and French engineers of the period, and offers a wealth of detail on their educational systems and the institutions that they established. The French were elitist and technocratic; the Americans egalitarian and meritocratic. In many respects, this is still true today, and the difficult balance between the two can be found in many engineering arenas. Certainly the choices for modern engineering education (which perhaps focusses too heavily on the science side rather than on practical design) are still unresolved.

The book shows the weight of months of painstaking research, and I found it to be well-informed, well-argued, and very thought-provoking.

Transitions in Engineering: G. H. Dufour and the Early 19th centure / Suspension Bridges: Guillaume Henri Dufour and the Early 19th Century Cable Suspension Bridges
Transitions in Engineering: G. H. Dufour and the Early 19th centure / Suspension Bridges: Guillaume Henri Dufour and the Early 19th Century Cable Suspension Bridges
by Tom F. Peters
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A spider-web of engineering history, 27 Nov 2007
This is a remarkable work of engineering history, placing a pinpoint at Guillaume Henri Dufour's design of the Saint Antoine Bridge, and drawing around it a vast spider web of interesting connections.

Dufour was a Swiss general and pioneering cartographer, but also the first to build a wire-cable suspension bridge in 1823. Peters ably documents his predecessors - the catenary bridges of China and Tibet, early chain bridges by engineers like James Finley and Samuel Brown, and the Seguin brothers, who built a temporary wire cable suspension bridge shortly before Dufour. In doing so, he reveals any number of developments previously hidden in the most obscure archives, and ranges through topics such as French access to British engineering papers, catenary theory, and experiments on the strength of iron wire.

Dufour goes on to show how the wire cable bridge became common, documenting Dufour's later bridges including the interesting and unusual underspanned suspension bridges. He shows how the little known Joseph Chaley pioneered aerial spinning of the cables, and documents developments up until the fateful collapse of the Basse-Chaine Bridge in 1850, which killed 478 people.

Throughout, the book is meticulously referenced and well-illustrated with extracts from the historical documents. Peters' aim is to use this one development to explore how engineering changed from a pragmatic craftsman's world to the more modern scientific, technocratic enterprise. This is where he is perhaps slightly weak - there are any number of ideas in this book (relating to factors of safety, the tension between science and practice, and the codification of fashions into standards) which are relevant today and could have been explored further. But even without these it's an intricate, fascinating book, essential to anyone interested in the history of bridge or structural engineering.

Cable-stayed Bridges
Cable-stayed Bridges
by Rene Walther
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 81.25

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Accessible and informative, 23 May 2007
This review is from: Cable-stayed Bridges (Hardcover)
As with any book on a rapidly-advancing technical field, this book is already slightly out-of-date. Nonetheless, it's a relatively accessible and wide-ranging overview of the design of an increasingly common type of bridge.

It includes short sections on the historical development of cable-stayed bridges, and providing examples of those built so far, but the main part of the book discusses the technology and design of these structures.

All the different types of deck, pylon and cable arrangement are discussed in detail, and this gives a clear understanding of the pros and cons of the various options. There are extensive sections on both static and dynamic analysis, although perhaps lagging behind current-day use of computer methods. I would have found a bit more material on the non-linear buckling of towers and decks to be helpful.

Key sections provide a parametric study of stiffness, giving a good understanding of how changes in tower, cable or deck dimensions will change the load effects in the structure; and details of model tests on a slender-decked bridge, where the author puts a persuasive case for this form of structure.

Overall, it's hardly an enthralling read, but a very useful book to have at hand.

Calatrava Bridges (Architecture/Design Series)
Calatrava Bridges (Architecture/Design Series)
by Alexander Tzonis
Edition: Paperback
Price: 17.20

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Calatrava - sculptor, architect, engineer?, 2 Jan 2007
Calatrava is perhaps the best-known structural engineer in the world, and it's as much for his bridges as any of his other work. This can only be a good thing for a public who would otherwise think that bridge engineers stopped at Brunel (or Eiffel, or Roebling, depending on your country of origin).

Despite his work's public popularity, Calatrava is frequently criticised within the engineering community. Matthew Wells in "30 Bridges" describes how many of Calatrava's bridges are "rather like a cake on a cake-stand", with some of them "overblown". What engineers so dislike is that Calatrava abandons the discipline of economy in favour of the irrational and the exuberant - bridges which succeed primarily as sculptures rather than as rational structures.

Alexander Tzonis has written extensively on Calatrava but unfortunately lacks a critical eye. The dozens of bridges included in this book are all described positively, although some are downright ugly (e.g. the fortunately unbuilt Serreria Bridge) and others interesting but seriously flawed (e.g. California's Sundial Bridge). His text is often unclear, frequently failing to distinguish between bridges that were built and others that never got beyond the model-making stage, and it's often obvious that English is his second language.

That said, I still found the book consistently fascinating, and it's well-illustrated. The initial chapter on his Alpine bridge designs (all very different from the high-tech steelwork of his better-known work) is very welcome, and there are plenty of structures which I hadn't previously encountered. As a bridge designer, there are several ideas to follow up, and it's unsurprising that Calatrava has inspired many imitators.

In summary, Calatrava fans will love this book. Others with a keen interest in bridge design will also find plenty to admire (or react against), but may wish it was somewhat less of a hagiography.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 26, 2008 8:21 PM BST

The Art of Structural Design: A Swiss Legacy
The Art of Structural Design: A Swiss Legacy
by David P Billington
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Four aspirational engineers, 12 Dec 2006
"The Art of Structural Design" isn't the first book to cover these four heroic Swiss structural engineers. Billington has written previously and extensively on Maillart, and there are good books available on Menn and Isler. What makes it remarkable, however, is the particular angle it takes.

The meat of the book discusses these engineers' major works, from Ammann's George Washington Bridge through to Menn's Sunniberg masterpiece. But throughout, the focus isn't just on what brought these structures to the level of art, but on how the engineers' philosophies blended technology and aesthetics, and on where those philosophies came from in the first place.

There are two chapters on their teachers, Wilhelm Ritter and Pierre Lardy, which make clear the key influence that a good educator can have. My experience is that such people are few and far between, and this is to engineering's great loss. Billington's insightful analysis extends to poring over old lecture notes, and I'd think few intelligent engineering students wouldn't wish that those were their own notes.

As such, this is a book that could do with being far more widely read, both by engineering students and educators. It's well-illustrated throughout, and provides engineers with the aspirational figures so often lacking. Although the technical content is fairly light (with the general reader in mind), there's enough to see how only a synthesis of analytical depth with design flair can lead to the very best structural work.

The Origins of Virtue (Penguin Press Science)
The Origins of Virtue (Penguin Press Science)
by Matt Ridley
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.09

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Why be nice?, 13 Oct 2006
I really enjoyed this book. Ridley's aim is to answer an old question - "how is society possible?" - largely from the context of evolutionary biology.

For much of the book, his quest is to explain altruism - if our instincts have evolved to maximise the chances of our genes reproducing, then why should we care about strangers?

He starts with the genes themselves - each genome a cooperative society of individual genes, each individually 'selfish' but equally reliant on their neighbours for their survival. This introduces a theme that runs throughout the book - the division of labour - and gives some idea of why the book spends as much time discussing economics as biology.

There's plenty here on game theory and its use to derive theories of altruism (reciprocity and others). I was surprised at how far beyond biology Ridley treads, with chapters on tribalism, war, trade and property, for example.

The book begins by looking at Kropotkin's (flawed) theory of Mutual Aid, which sought to use animal behaviour to demonstrate that we are naturally altruistic, attempting to employ science to make a political point. By the end, this theory has been long dismissed, but Ridley bravely returns to similar territory. Having shown (and speculated) how biology and evolution can in fact lead to altruistic (or at least cooperative) behaviour, he draws the lessons for real-world politics.

I found this a great way to end - in an era where politicians seem as keen as ever to meddle in science, it's good to see that science can hold lessons for politics too, and good to see a science journalist unafraid to draw those lessons.

The Bridges of Wales
The Bridges of Wales
by Gwyndaf Breese
Edition: Paperback
Price: 4.95

2.0 out of 5 stars The Bridges of Wales, 24 Sep 2006
This review is from: The Bridges of Wales (Paperback)
"The Bridges of Wales" is pretty much the only current book to offer a gazeteer to the viaduct and crossings of Wales, which is a shame, because it's in many ways quite disappointing.

Breese lists bridges by county or river, and gives in some cases quite detailed accounts of their features and history. Map references are given throughout to help the bridge-seeking tourist and there are some photos as well.

His writing style is informative and easy to read, but unfortunately the book's flaws are many. Firstly, it's all over the place, jumping from area to area with little real overall structure. Secondly, there are no maps at all, so any attempt to figure out the geography of different structures is impossible without a map at your side.

The photos are limited in number - the book would have been far better if there had been more. The referencing is lacking (and there's no index), which makes the book a hindrance rather than a help to a bridge historian. Finally, the book's main enthusiasm is for older bridges, which means mainly masonry road bridges and early rail bridges. As a result, modern bridges get little attention - even neglecting several bridges which today are quite historic e.g. those from the early twentieth century.

By comparison with the nearest equivalent, Gillian Nelson's "Highland Bridges", this is a disappointing book - but until something better comes along, still the most comprehensive on its subject.

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