Bridge: the Architecture of Social Interactions
Published Jul 14, 2020
The bridge is a structure that is supposed to carry vehicles or pedestrians from one side to another. Those parts can be separated by a river, other natural obstacles or the human-made built environment. Throughout history, the way that people have perceived bridges has changed. First, bridges were extension of the land, housing and transport structures. Recently, bridges have been associated with a high-tech infrastructure element that only functions as a transport structure.
Social interactions have been researched by sociologist Erving Goffman, who defines them as a process which determines how people act and react to personal contact around them. Many examples of public spaces have shown that social interaction can be influenced by architecture.
The image of the bridge has changed throughout history. Bridges built in the Middle Ages were mainly seen as an infrastructural element, a means to cross from one part of a river to another. (Humankind has often tended to build settlements and later cities near rivers.) This river played a crucial role as a means of transport and also a supply warehouse. Later, settlements grew on both sides of the river. The need to connect the separate parts and a lack of building ground in cities strengthened the need for bridges. During this time a new perception of the bridge was born: a concept of bridges more like a social connector, place where people live, sell their goods and meet. Bridges became perceived as a needed extension of the land in the time when cities strove for every extra square meter of housing or function. Cities were over-congested and busy, but they reflected the spirit of the age, they fully described the character of the human interaction. (Blakstad, 2002)
The paradigm of a “social bridge” changed about 200 years ago in Paris, France, when the Pont Neuf was built, the first bridge in Paris that did not have living quarters. From that very moment, bridges started to be perceived only as an infrastructural concept, as a mean to cross from one point to another. As a result, bridges have been step-by-step (no pun intended) losing their social functions as meeting spaces, as places of intensive social interactions. (Blakstad, 2002)
Fig 1. Peace Bridge, Santiago Calatrava
Today, bridges are all about breaking records. They are examples of state-of-the-art technology, innovative structures that breaking record of height, span and use of materials in a less conventional way. The majority of great engineering discoveries started with bridges, as a training and experience exercise. On the other hand, the excessive size and challenging character of the design task has led to unforgettable failures when the task exceeded the available technology.
Bridges play many roles in a cityscape. They are engineering stars shining brightly in a landscape. They are intensive infrastructure elements, of which the main function is to transport people and goods from one point to another. The engineering and infrastructure aspect of a bridge is important, but not the only one. What makes bridges special is the way they influence human interactions. They leave no one neutral. They attract attention, they let people feel free and independent, they create special, unforgettable moments just by influencing various people in a various way with the same architectural language. Therefore, bridges are a special space in society .
Qumar, C. Social interactions, Definitions and types. Chapter 10
Cambridge dictionary, Definition of “bridge.”https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/bridge
Blakstad, L. Bridge. (2002) The Architecture of Connection, 0101 deutsche buecherei, 6-18
Peace Bridge, Santiago Calatrava, from: