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American Society of Landscape Architects


November 2005 Issue

Bridging Truths
Landscape architects can help span the ages with timber bridges.

By Gary W. Cramer

Briding Truths
Courtesy Simone Jaffe Collins

Whether the goal is minor revision, middling restoration, or major re-creation, historic timber bridge projects offer distinct opportunities for landscape architects to join with engineers in crafting results that honestly span the past and present.

William Collins, asla, of Simone Jaffe Collins Landscape Architecture in Berwyn, Pennsylvania, thinks landscape architects should be involved in bridge design from the beginnings of community-based input to well beyond the design stage. A member of the Timber Framers Guild who lives near the Delaware River north of Philadelphia—a region that is rife with working remnants of nineteenth-century bridge and canal history—Collins has soaked up local engineering and timberworking lore. He likes to dive into bridge projects early on so he can make aesthetic decisions that respect the relationship of the bridge to the landscape and that preserve the original functions of the bridge.

"Bridges are a metaphor for partnerships," Collins says of his firmís involvement with a variety of historic and heritage bridge commissions. "Thereís an important distinction I make if Iím working on a bridge project: I want to see the architecture incorporated into the structure and not just be a facade or a happy face. Weíve got to avoid using materials without meaning. The materials chosen should accurately reflect the work being performed." He points out, for instance, that the historical bridge building practice was to use stone only in the form of bearing walls, arches, or short lintels—never in the form of the faux beams now seen in some suburban bridges that are meant to look older than they really are.

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