By 2012 the planet will see the largest and most futuristic arch bridge ever to be built. Dubai’s 6th bridge crossing is designed to improve transport links to the centre of the city and is vital to support the growing needs of a booming city.
What you may not know is that this incredibly ambitious design would never have been possible without the Grand-daddy of engineering, Isambard Kingdom Brunel - the man who inspired me to become an engineer.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel is the father of engineering in the UK today. He is responsible for many of our great engineering achievement including the Sounding Arch Bridge at Maidenhead, as well as the entire Great Western Railway Line. He revolutionised public transport and modern engineering. I am constantly inspired by his flair for design and his courage for pushing physics to the limit. In fact, in a moment of geeky admiration I even called my dog Isambard or Bardy for short, after the great man himself.
Sounding Arch Bridge, Maidenhead
I am absolutely passionate about bridges because to me, they are the perfect combination of beauty and technology. They have been fundamental in the social, cultural and economic development of Britain. They have created trade links and increased social interaction leading to a melting pot of cultures by connecting our docks and ports with the rest of the Country.
Bridges are part of an infrastructure that allowed all of us Brits to expand our horizons; see the world around us and have that world come to our very doorsteps. Brunel’s vision was that a person could buy one ticket in London, travel by train to Bristol and step aboard the Great Eastern Steamship to New York.
In 1839, Brunel’s Sounding Arch Bridge was seen as a novel and daring engineering design. In fact, it was so controversial that the structural formwork used to build the bridge was never allowed to be taken down. It was not until it was washed away by floodwaters than Brunel’s bridge was proved to be an engineering marvel. In fact, it is still carrying trains today that are 10 times the weight that Brunel ever imagined.
The Sounding Arch Bridge may look pretty normal to you and me but actually Brunel’s brief was quite tricky. In order to carry a train the bridge had to be as flat as possible. Not a problem you say, make it a beam bridge. But it was also asked that no part of the structure be built in the Thames itself to allow good access for boats. Hmmm….. that makes it more tricky as without enough columns for support, beam bridges are very weak and would crumble under the weight of a train. How about an arch bridge? This would be perfect strength wise but with too much of a hump to be at all practical for trains. So Brunel took a huge risk and built the flattest masonry arch bridge the world had ever seen – it teeters on the edge of acceptable physics.
Beam Bridge; poor boat access.
Old Masonry Arch Bridges - no train is getting over that hump!
Brunel changed how engineers think about bridges to this date. Without his foresight, ambition and risk taking it would not be possible to even consider some incredible designs that are being built around the Globe today. Dubai’s 6th Crossing Bridge will be 1 mile long & 670 feet tall. It will have 12 lanes for traffic and carry more than 4000 vehicles per hour PLUS a train running down the middle. It will be another engineering marvel of the modern age. And it would have been impossible without Isamabard Kingdom Brunel, who was brilliant but quite frankly obviously a bit of a Chancer!