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Designer Notebook

Looking back at my notebook sketches and concepts, I came to one conclusion…my engineering side controls.  I wrote a couple of points that I wanted to incorporate into my design and then didn’t, hmmm.

  • Curved bridge pathways – nope
  • height above the deck – sort of
  • Art / sculpture – nada
  • Color – is white a color?

Why? I think its because I know how difficult it is to design something different, exotic or new. Its a lot of work and often there is more risk than reward for an engineer. If it works, the concept designer gets credit, if it fails the design engineer gets credit. Tried and true is an easier path.

One of the things I would like to see is the scratches / sketches that lead designers to their final concepts. Somehow I can’t see where mine came from, oh well, here is a couple of pages from my notebook.


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Waiting for the votes

Well this should be my last post about the Calgary bridge competition for a while. The exciting part was seeing the opening of the designs, but I think the final choice will be anti-climatic. (concepts are the most fun part, the idea.)

I posted my last video for the ten concepts I liked, here. The videos were fun for me but I did see them getting shorter and shorter as I neared the end…..(just try and wing a spontaneous, pithy overview of a bridge)

I like to think of the videos as future job killers for me, now I have at least ten more firms unlikely to hire me. (hmmm, maybe starting a blog was a bad thing..)

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Spam Attack!

Updated: I added the plugin that forces you to write in the given code. Hopefully that will help fight the spammers.

If you register, you can post a comment anytime without moderation. So post a nice comment and then go crazy with the negative ones!

I had a spam attack of multiple (100+)  comments, so I turned comments off for a while.  Sorry about that!

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Bridge Aesthetics

I received a comment from Joe on my “Bridge reviews & stuff” post. I think his thoughts go to the heart of the matter concerning bridge aesthetics between engineers and architects. Read the whole comment on the post, I will hit some of the high points.

First, I do believe that in the case of highly publicized structures, (think Calgary) it will typically boil down to a beauty contest……the reasons for choosing the final winner will be nebulous and hard to quantify.

Also remember that 95% of the built environment is not designed by an architect. (Source from the book, “Think like an Architect”, by Hal Box)

From Joe:
Aesthetics are often ignored by bridge engineers and that is one reason why we find architects in this field.

I think this is completely true but I also think it is easier to speak with the public about beauty, a concept they can see and grasp, than about a cool new structural composite.   Engineers have also left a segment of the bridge market open to architects, pedestrian bridges.

Continue reading Bridge Aesthetics

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Bridge reviews & stuff

I posted a couple of reviews on Youtube concerning the Calgary Bridge designs. In my defence, I am just learning how to make videos and it is difficult to go back and change a stupid comment..of which, I make a great deal.

I would like to hear some feedback about the videos, pro (if any) and con (I can take it).  Is it something I should continue to murder, ahh, try…

I also need to learn how to better present my ideas, so I am working on Photoshop skills…The first picture is what I entered in the CMLC contest. The second a half hour “improvement”? Overdone? Oh well….

final with x cables copy

final with x cables DARK

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Signature Bridge

Updated: I added a quick video. Tell me the truth are they really bad or just lousy…

I have written about this before but I think it is the key when you are developing a bridge design for your community. Does the bridge have to rise to the level of being a “signature bridge”?


something (as a tune, style, or logo) that serves to set apart or identify; also : a characteristic mark


a name, face, picture, edifice or even a person readily recognized as having some well-known significance or embodying certain qualities: one thing, an image or depiction, that represents something else of greater significance through literal or figurative meaning, usually associated with religious, cultural, political, or economic standing.

Essentially a signature structure is intended as a recognizable symbol, an identity, for a city or an area. Something that looks great on a postcard, website or tourist brochure. A signature bridge is meant to look good from a distance where a camera can see the whole structure.

Sounds great, but what are the costs involved in becoming a logo? Well, money obviously, it takes a lot to achieve landmark status. (landmark bridges also take a lot of  money to maintain.)

And you can’t always predict if your structure will become an icon.

The Eiffel tower is now considered the symbol of France, but it is important to remember that it did not start out that way.

The tower was met with much criticism from the public when it was built, with many calling it an eyesore. Newspapers of the day were filled with angry letters from the arts community of Paris.

Novelist Guy de Maupassant—who claimed to hate the tower—supposedly ate lunch in the Tower’s restaurant every day. When asked why, he answered that it was the one place in Paris where one could not see the structure. Today, the Tower is widely considered to be a striking piece of structural art.

It also helps if you throw in more structure than you need (to carry the actual pedestrian loads) to give it an iconic look.  Finally, it is rare that an iconic bridge can meet the needs of being truly stunning from afar and a personal, enjoyable experience for the user of the bridge. (Think great looking shoes that pinch, you may get tired of the pain over time.) It is possible to build a great structure but only time will tell if it becomes a symbol.

My last question, how many iconic bridges does the average person know?

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Sustainability: A New High-Rise Vernacular?

Graeme Sharpe, of the a place of sense blog,  sent me a link to a paper discussing the issues of sustainability for high-rise buildings.

towerNow I am a bridge engineer but the topic of sustainability easily applies to the bridge world as well as tall buildings. Up front costs of a bridge can be fairly high but the maintenance costs of a bridge, especially of a signature bridge, can become very large down the road.

Most engineers today design a bridge with a certain lifespan in mind. A signature bridge should be designed to last a least 100 years. It also makes sense to use local materials and the local workforce to cut transportation costs, carbon footprint costs, etc.

The paper is well worth reading, thanks Graeme for the link!

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Context Sensitive Design & things

I have been invited to give a talk about context sensitive design at the World Steel bridge symposium, this November in San Antonio, Texas.

Design DemotivatorWhat do I know about context sensitive design, you ask? Not a lot but I am learning and I could use your help. IF you could share/suggest some images/horror/success stories that would be very helpful. I plan on making the talk about 98% images so that I don’t bore my audience to death….

On the Calgary bridge front, I tried making a little video about the criteria set out in the RFP by CMLC for the proposed pedestrian bridge. And I shamelessly hawked my own design, which I now realize was much too simple for this competition. (That may be part of my talk…what it takes to compete)

I thought it might also be fun to do short video reviews of my top ten bridge picks? (Easier than typing!)

Screencast Here.

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Judging the Calgary pedestrian bridges

I am going to try and get past my disqualification from the Calgary Pedestrian
Competition and give a unbiased look at the current competitors.

(I need a good story about why I was DQed. Instead of being short on time and submitting a below average presentation, I can mention how I was trying to finish my proposal while saving kittens from a burning fire! Cute kittens!)

To give everyone some common guidelines for judging the submissions, I propose
a scorecard.  (Please suggest guidelines you think are important.)

For example, engineering questions, (yes or no)

1) Can it be built as shown?
2) Can it be built for $25 million Canadian dollars?
3) Does it take into account the high water/ice levels?
4) Has it taken into account access to the island?
5) Is it innovative engineering?
6) Is it practical to maintain?
7) Is it mobility accessible for all users?
8) Is it safe for users?
9) Does this design only work at this site or could it be used somewhere else in the world?

Rank the aesthetic design on a scale of 1 to 10,
with 1 being poor and 10 being “sick”! (that means cool in popular parlance)

1) Does it raise to landmark/signature status?
2) Is it one of a kind?
3) Does it take into account future development of the island?
4) Is it fun for pedestrians?
5) Are there places to rest, sit and enjoy the skyline?
7) Is it worth the money?

You can see my engineering side shining through in most of these questions. I do understand the position of “its beautiful no matter what the cost!” kind of thinking but CMLC must have some kind of rating system that will judge which entrants move along. How do you think they will judge them?

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Me vs. Calatrava Calgary pedestrian bridge

Okay I am not comparing my abilities to that of Calatrava but I do think the first Calgary bridge is a good goalpost for discussing mine and the other future potential pedestrian bridges.

Think about what you actually want for the new bridge, a signature sculpture or a usable link for pedestrians.

Take this as humor……


One of knocks against my design is the simplicity of it. Lets compare mine with the Peace bridge. Calatrava uses a straight path, hmmm I used a straight path. That can’t be right.

I think a bridge should be open to the sky, with platforms for resting and looking out on the river. Calatrava, well you can see the river through the superstructure and the sky through the plastic. Try fishing off his bridge….


Calatrava’s bridge is  a marvel of engineering. I would agree with that but the design has been used before and really will not be a system that is used that often. My design would be a difficult engineering feat and actually protect the structure from floods. AND it has never been used in this way before.


Calatrava received a bunch of money up front to develop his concept. He has a full time staff and if he had to turn his sketches into photo-realistic images, I think Calgary would still be waiting for his design. I did mine at night and on the weekends for the fun of it.


While I agree my design is “simple” I don’t understand what is wrong with that. Calatrava developed a concept that could go anywhere. Absolutely anywhere.  Paint it yellow & black and it is the new Pittsburgh Steelers bridge. Paint is orange and send it to Denver.

My bridge is a one of a kind that only works at the St. Patricks site. It does not make sense anywhere else. It protects the island, the bridge and leaves open views of the river.

Whatever happened to a nice “simple” open structure? Why does everything have to have curves, millions of cables, elaborate structural details? Mine would cost less than $25 million and allow the extra money to be spent on improving the park, your local school, etc.


Green structures used to mean something. Calatrava will be using steel imported from somewhere. (maybe china, the costs are low) Alberta has a thriving concrete industry, so a bridge out of concrete will help the local economy. (I can add color!) How much structure do you need for a bridge? Whatever happened to simple yet attractive?


Again take this post with a grain of salt. I worked fairly hard to get something into the competition and I am miffed AT MYSELF for not getting the final presentation right. I even like the criticism of my structure because it means the design is being taken somewhat seriously. ..

THis post is tongue in cheek but REALLY, take a look at Calatrava’s design and explain to me what the major advantages are of his design.

Use his design as a guide to judge the new bridges. Why pay $25 million for his bridge if the new designs are superior. I’m just saying….

Color, I will add some.
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NieKo – Concept for the Calgary Pedestrian Bridge

Well I just received an email that I did not meet the required “documentation” for the competition. Oh well.

I have attached some images of my concept below.

Before I explain the rationale behind my concept, I have to say that it was a great experience entering the competition for the new Calgary pedestrian bridge, and my only regret (because of a lack of time) is not submitting a better final presentation.

I also have to say that my concept was a starting point for further design. It could be built as it stands for less than $25 million and the extra money could be used for pathways, lighting and landscaping.

The Flying Horseshoe Bridge

A signature bridge is often judged on how it looks on a magazine cover and not how enjoyable it is for the local population. I tried to design my concept for the people who would use it.


When I started my design I thought of curved bridges, cable stay bridges, ribbon bridges and even standard beam bridges. I started designing a bridge before thinking about the site. Essentially, I forgot about the context or reason for the bridge. So I took a step back and tried to envision what I thought was important about the location.

St. Patrick’s Island

I wanted a bridge concept that did not overwhelm the tip of St. Patrick Island. Looking at some of the other concepts I see a lot of structure placed on the island obscuring the natural beauty of the island. (Not to mention providing a great deal of mischief making places under all that structure.)

The front of the island could be covered in paths/columns/staircases and I felt that would destroy some of the natural shoreline. (best part of an island) In addition, standing on an island staring up at all that bridge superstructure could be disconcerting.

I also wanted a couple of large viewing areas that would allow pedestrians places to look out on the river and city skyline (bridges are for the users) .

My goal was to keep the natural beauty of the island intact.


I wanted a simple looking but complex engineering bridge. By that I mean the bridge looks straightforward but I have added in the difficult design element of movement.

The twin arches can rotate and take the lightweight island path above flooding and ice levels. As an engineer, I don’t want to place millions of dollars of structure in a floodplain.


I am new to the competition world but I think my first effort has some positive aspects. The goal was to learn how to compete and actually develop a buildable bridge concept.


final with x cables copytopview copyoverview2final copynight2 copywingswest1rotateeast1 copy

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What it means to win a signature bridge.

Like everyone else who entered the Calgary bridge competition, I would like to win the job. (I said I would like to, not that I am likely to win or place or show….)

But what does winning the competition mean to the winner?

First, a great deal of publicity, because after all that is what the contest was meant to generate. Interest in Calgary, civic pride and maybe some more development in the area. At the two extremes, either a “novice” designer (amateur / small firm) or a mega-firm could win.

Lets look at what you might get in terms of money. Usually the winning design firm gets from 8-12% of the cost of the bridge, so around $2.5 million dollars. Plus they would probably secure the contract for all the surrounding landscaping, paths, lights, etc. (Additional $$ if that is not included in the bridge contract)

If you were an amateur with absolutely no design experience, you would have to hire an architectural firm, with engineering ties or a big engineering firm with architectural experience to actually design the bridge. If you are a small architectural or engineering firm, you may still need to hire outside help, but the “win” could propel you into a new tax bracket. It will most likely take up all your time for the next two years until it was finished.

On the other hand, if you are in a partnership of a strong architectural firm and a well know engineering company, it may just be another feather in the cap of a long list of feathers. Nice to have the work but no one person can be attributed the design.

I think the best scenario for Calgary is to have a big firm win. Then they could be assured that the design expertise was in place to design and construct the bridge. But typically this means the concept was a group effort and you will see a number of suits at the press conference.

The most fun outcome for a designer and the best press would be the Cinderella story. A lone designer submits a unique concept that beats all the big boys/girls. Out of nowhere a talented young underdog artist/architect/engineer/small child comes up with the winning proposal. It would most certainly be the start of a new career and be a big story around the world. (Think Susan Boyle.)

I would like to see a lone designer win, I think that would be the most fun and an inspiration to new designers everywhere.