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The most 'beautiful' bridges are almost always made of steel Civil Engineering Works Innovation Steel

A Ban on creating beauty?

From now on, only concrete motorway bridges may be constructed over our waters, Minister Melanie Schultz van Haegen has decided. Why enforce a ban on creating beauty? is what Rob van de Waal, Director of Iv-Groep, is wondering.

This is the Netherlands at its merest. This is how I can best characterise the decision of Minister Schultz van Haegen that from now on only concrete bridges will be built. Not that I have anything against concrete, but what concerns me is the underlying premise: it must be as cheap as possible. Whether it is beautiful doesn’t seem to be important, is what I can conclude myself. This will be the consequence of committing to only using concrete bridges: anything more extravagant than a slab is not really on the cards.

Currently, we are not a country at the forefront of grand gestures. But, if you feast your eyes on the Erasmus bridge or the deep red railway bridge of the Hanze line, your heart will beat faster. These are examples of striking bridges; icons on the landscape and appealing entrances to cities and regions.

No ban on the steel bridge

Why enforce a ban on steel, a material which simply gives a much greater freedom of shape than concrete?
It costs more, the minister concludes - and that's correct. Steel needs more maintenance than concrete. Beauty has its price. But let’s not exaggerate. If you consider the extra costs in relation to the total costs of a motorway, we are dealing with several tens of millions of euros for a depreciation period of 30 years. The reason for the minister's decision was the partial closure of the steel Merwedebrug; an absolute disaster for freight traffic. Apparently, the idea: it’s steel's fault, so we do not want that anymore, prevails. The facts, however, are different. During the maintenance management, matters were left to their own devices and it was known that the bridge was supporting much more load than for which it was designed. But, this was overseen, and nothing was done about it. Which has ultimately resulted in an overreaction.

“Challenge the market to come up with a design that offers aesthetic quality within budget"

Once again, I have nothing against using concrete in bridges. For example, the material was used perfectly in the stylish, robust entrance of North-Brabant on the A2 over the river Waal. Incidentally, it is the steel doors that give the bridge its special character; it is, therefore, a hybrid variant. But that will also no longer be possible. What surprises me the most is the absurd limitation for the design of new bridges. Why are architects and constructors not being asked to create beauty? Challenge the market to come up with a design that offers aesthetic quality within a certain budget. Whether it will be a concrete, steel or a hybrid construction will remain to be seen.
Would you like to know more about this subject? Rob will be pleased to share ideas about your engineering issues. Contact him by email or call​ 088 943 3000.
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