How To Understand the Principles of Bridge Design

Good design applies to nearly any construction project, including bridges. The bridge design is as important as the actual bridge itself.  It might not actually connect gaps, but it will serve its purpose during the making of the bridge.  In making a bridge, there are rules that need to be followed to maximize the bridge’s function, safety, and longevity.  If you want to win the West Point Bridge design contest with a strong design, you need to follow some of these basic principles. 

You need to understand the basics of designing a bridge starting with important terms.

  • The span is the length that the bridge can sustain without buckling.
  • The columns are the supporting towers that stick out either from the center or sides of a bridge.
  • The deck is the actual surface where pedestrians and vehicles cross.
  • Funiculars are the lines by which the stresses are concentrated or traveling.
  • Attachments are the joints, which are usually bolts and steel-plates.
  • Cables are the long segments of thick steel that hold a suspension bridge.
  • Beams are solid materials. The composition depends on the purpose they will serve, that is laid on columns.  This will act as the road for most simple bridges.
  • Piers are the structures that hold the tower in place.  It is like the foundation of the house, which is rooted deep within the soil.  The only difference is it is submerged in water.
  • Abutments are the arched structures, usually comprised of interlaced metals that look like a big tube of railings.

Different types of bridges have different ways of maintaining a stable deck bridge.  Some rely on compression, which means that it allows the weight of the materials, the pedestrians and cars to hold the bridge together.  Another method relies on tension, which means that it will rely on the quality of the design and materials of the bridge to sustain the pulling force of the deck and everything on it.  Torsion, on the other hand, acts like a very big spring in cantilever design bridges.  It relies on the abutments to resist the amount of downward force. 

The design of a bridge is highly dependent on the function that it will serve.  In most populated areas, bridges that are very durable and wide like a suspension bridge, for example, may be needed.  If a suspension bridge looks like overkill, you may settle for a double-decker bridge with a railway on the bottom of the top deck.  If you only need a bridge to cross a deep but very short valley gap, you can use a simple beam.  If you need to allow vehicles to cross that gap, you can construct an arched bridge. 

In the event of an experimental bridge type, a designer needs to understand the possible forces that will act on it.  You need to construct a model like the toothpick bridges or popsicle design you made in school.  If you want a more precise computation, you can search for software to do it for you. 

This article does not serve as a manual but rather a means to understand how a bridge design should be conceived.  Other good building design concepts can be learned through online design programs.


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