Unique bridge destined for the scrapheap
Plans by the Flemish region and the city of Bruges to replace a unique swing-bridge designed by a world-famous Flemish engineer have been attacked by the Flemish Association for Industrial Archaeology (VVIA).
The bridge, which links the Scheepsdalelaan with the Blankenberge road and is known as the Scheepsdale Bridge, was designed by Arthur Vierendeel (1852-1940). Vierendeel taught at the Catholic University of Leuven and developed the revolutionary structure which bears his name: the Vierendeel truss.
The Vierendeel truss differs from a standard truss in not having diagonal rigidifying braces, which gives the element a more aesthetically-pleasing look by allowing rounded corners. This aesthetic aspect was crucial to Vierendeel's philosophy. "For metallic constructions," he once wrote, "the dimensions have to be determined a priori by aesthetic considerations, whereas recourse to mathematical formulae only comes later".
The Scheepsdale Bridge may be the only remaining original Vierendeel bridge in existence, at least according to the Structurae engineering database, although structures using the principle that bears his name were built by his students.
The bridge is also interesting from an engineering point of view in that it swings laterally, rather than opening upwards. In addition, while most of Vierendeel's bridges were welded, this one is riveted, since rivets were another construction feature Vierendeel thought should be used for decorative purposes.
"We had hoped the new bridge could be placed beside the old one, and be used by cyclists and pedestrians," said Adriaan Linters of the VVIA. "Unfortunately it seems as if nobody sees any worth in the bridge." The organisation is now asking for a distinctive section of the bridge to be set up somewhere as a monument. But this seems unlikely. "Aside from the cost, there is no suitable place in the vicinity to show such a monument," said Bruges' alderman for public works, Jean-Pierre Van den Berghe.