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Five unusual Dutch bridges

Bridges are not easily associated with architecture, and yet they are indeed an important discipline in the world of construction and design. They are not just engineering marvels that need to withstand all kinds of loads or weather conditions. They are often also beautiful designs, a feast for the eyes. We give you an overview of five extraordinary Dutch bridges.

De Hef, Rotterdam

In 1878, a new railway bridge was built in Rotterdam. It was a swing bridge. However, the turning mechanism and the consequently narrow passage caused a lot of inconvenience to shipping. After yet another incident in which a ship landed against the piers, the renovated bridge was reopened in 1927. The swing bridge had been changed into a lift bridge, and this was unique. The lift bridge consists of three parts: the two approach bridges with the lifting tower and the middle section, the halyard, which can be lifted up by counterweights attached to the tower. It was the first of its kind in Western Europe. Pieter Joosting's design was therefore to receive much attention. A film about it was made by Joris Iven in 1928, The Bridge and a book was published in 1985: De Hef, biography of a railway bridge. In 1940, the bridge, like the rest of the city of Rotterdam, was severely damaged, and it was vital for logistical reasons to get it up and running again quickly. Things were different in 1993: the bridge in disuse due to the construction of the Willemspoort Tunnel. Demolition was threatened, but it did not come to that. The bridge is protected as a national monument, and was thoroughly restored between 20014 and 2017. This involved removing the halyard, the middle section of the bridge, refurbishing it in the Merwehaven, and putting it back in place after three years of work. Since then, the bridge has become an integral part of the city.

Erasmus Bridge, Rotterdam

Perhaps the most famous bridge in the Netherlands is also in Rotterdam. The Erasmus Bridge is a world-famous design by Ben van Berkel of UNStudio. It is a cable-stayed bridge, with the bridge suspended on pendants held up by the 139-metre-high buckled, asymmetrical pylon. This pylon has earned the bridge the nickname 'the swan'. The bridge was opened in 1997 by Queen Beatrix, but less than two months after its opening, there were complaints of a swaying bridge deck. Raindrops had slightly altered the facades, making them more sensitive to vibrations caused by wind, for example. New dampers were installed, after which the problem was rectified. This just proves that designing a bridge is a highly technical discipline, where the must withstand various factors. The Erasmus Bridge has become one of the icons of the city of Rotterdam. In Utrecht, Ben van Berkel designed the Prins Claus Bridge in 2002, also a cable-stayed bridge, which resembles the Erasmus Bridge but never became such an icon.

The Nescio Bridge, Amsterdam

The Eel Bridge, as it is also called, owes its official name to the prose writer Nescio, who in the early 20th century took many walks along the Diemer Zeeedijk and wrote about it. Now the bridge connects the island of IJburg with Amsterdam and Diemen. It has become a graceful design of a bicycle and pedestrian bridge that contrasts with the Zeeburger Bridge of the A10 motorway not far away. It is one of the longest bicycle bridges in the country, at 780 metres long. The suspension bridge consists of a suspension structure suspended from two large piers, to which are attached the pendants from which the bridge hangs. It was designed by Jim Eyre, in collaboration with Grontmij and Arup. In 2006, they were awarded the National Steel Award for the design.

Saint Servatius bridge, Maastricht

A well-known much and seemingly much older bridge is the Sint Servaasbrug in Maatsricht. This 13th-century bridge was built to replace its predecessor, possibly the Roman bridge of Maastricht from the 1st century AD, which collapsed in 1275. The new bridge was located slightly to the north and was commissioned by the chapter of Saint Servatius. On both sides of the bridge were city gates and on the outside was a wooden span, which could be quickly dismantled in case of siege. The rest of the bridge consisted of nine stone arches. However, this is no longer quite the bridge that crosses the Meuse today. Some changes were made to the bridge between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, such as the ninth arch merging into the quay and restorations where cast-iron railings were installed. But the most radical modification came in the 1920s when it became clear that the bridge could not meet the demands of increasing traffic. A new bridge, the Wilhelmina Bridge, was eventually built, allowing the Saint Servatius Bridge to be retained. However, during the very extensive restoration between 1932 and 1934, the bridge was effectively demolished and rebuilt. The bridge became 2.5 metres wider, and arches were made of concrete and then clad in mostly new natural stone. There was a steel lifting section for shipping with turrets on either side that wished for the former gatehouse. In 1934, the statue of the bridge's namesake, Saint Servatius, was placed, then created by sculptor Charles Vos. So although much tinkering has been done to the bridge, this structure with an interesting history is known as the oldest stone bridge in the Netherlands.

Muntbrug, Utrecht

As the last special bridge, there are of course many more, we pause to consider the Muntbrug in Utrecht. This is a swing bridge, and besides being an engineering feat at the time, one of the reasons the bridge is special is that it was part of the Merwede lock complex. The swing bridge rotates in the middle, allowing navigation on either side of the middle section. The bridge dates from 1887 and only got its name after the Royal Dutch Mint was built in 1912 on the quay where the bridge ends. The bridge is made of steel and connected by rivets. Like the Eiffel Tower which comes from the same year, it is a typical example of the technical revolution of the time. The bridge is not straight across the canal, so it does not yet have to turn 90 degrees to be parallel to the canal. In 2016, the bridge including floating trestle (weighing some 160 tonnes) was removed from its place for renovation, then reinstalled a year later.

Want to know more about (Dutch) architecture and/or bridges? Then the course Dutch Art History or Introduction to Architecture maybe something for you! 

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