To put this in better perspective, the average driveway requires between six and seven meters of concrete, meaning there is well over twelve-thousand driveways' worth of concrete stretching out for two-and-a-half kilometers over the valley of the River Tarn, at times higher than the Eiffel Tower and most of the buildings in New York City (BridgePros 2010). All of this material went to good use, creating not only the tallest vehicle bridge in the world, but also one of the safest and most assuredly long-lasting (BridgePros 2010).
Yet despite the football-stadium's worth of concrete and steel somehow suspended in the skyline of southern France, there is a tremendous and awe-inspiring beauty to the Milau viaduct bridge that defies the massive scale of the project. From this plan's initial design phases, the bridge was meant to be an epic and lasting work of art, and it was incredibly successful in attaining this goal (Glancey 2004). The lightness and seeming (and literal, in fact) suspension of the bridge is breathtaking in aerial views and awe-inspiring in majesty from the ground (Foster + Partners 2010).
Aside from the sheer massiveness and height of the bridge, there are many other features of both its architectural and its technical design that make this bridge both scientifically and culturally noteworthy. Part of the bridge's grace and the strength and practicality of its design is derived from the fact that it does not simply jut straight across the River Tarn valley skyline in a horizontal slash, but actually forms a graceful and sloping curve from one side of the valley to another. The radius of the curve -- the distance from the hypothetical center of the circle of which the Milau Viaduct bridge comprises a section to the bridge itself -- is approximately twenty kilometers, making the curve very gently and hardly perceptible while actually traversing the roadway, but this curve actually help drivers have better visibility along the span of the bridge as they move along (StateMaster 2010). The subtle downward slope that occurs from north to south is a natural result of the different heights of the valley walls at the point decided optimum for the bridge, and adds to the aesthetic grace of the bridge as well by making it appear almost a part of the natural flow of the landscape.
Even the cement pillars that support the bridge have both functional and aesthetic value. The solid masts used to anchor the cables upon which the bridge is suspended split beneath the driving surface to provide more flexibility for natural expansions and contractions of the steel in the bridge during changes in temperature and pressure, and at the same time they provide a smaller silhouette for the bridge above the driving surface, minimizing the aesthetic impact that the bridge has on the valley skyline and reinforcing the concept of airiness and lightness that is such an integral and deceptive feature of this bridge (Glancey 2004).
A Marriage of Two Minds
This creation of Norman Fosters and Michel Vilogeux's is truly a testament to the wondrous advancements in structural engineering and architecture that have been made in the past decades. The immensity of the structure is one thing, but there are much longer bridges, and bridges that weight more, and bridges that posed more engineering difficulties even than attempting to support traffic safely at heights many indoor-tourists can't stand. Yet to achieve such a feat of engineering in such a beautiful and meaningful way defies all expectation, and reminds one of the power and majesty that the human mind is capable of. There is an elegance and a genius in both the aesthetics and the structure of this bridge, and the two reinforce each other much in the same way that the unseen steel in the bridge itself reinforces the smooth and sculpted concrete that stands to meet the eyes and admirations of its beholders.
As time passes, other bridges -- taller bridges -- will be built that eclipse the Milau Viaduct in terms of the scale and difficulties of its undertaking, yet no bridge can ever surpass the absolutely perfect melding of aesthetic craft and disciplined science that went into this bridge's creation.
ArchInform. (2010). "Dr. Michel Virlogeux." Accessed 27 April 2010. http://eng.archinform.net/arch/55763.htm
BridgePros. (2010). "Milau Viaduct Project." Accessed 27 April 2010. http://bridgepros.com/projects/Millau_Viaduct/
Discovery. (2010). "Milau Viaduct." Discivery. Accessed 27 April 2010. http://www.yourdiscovery.com/machines_and_engineering/water_engineering/millau_viaduct/index.shtml