ARTchitecture: Building Bridges


ARTchitecture: Building Bridges


ARTchitecture: Building Bridges is an inclusive program that combines engineering, math, and art with the concepts of trust, peer connections, and strength by discussing, designing, and building bridges.


What is a bridge? Take a moment to think critically about this simplistic question. The most common conception of a bridge is of a structure that spans a gap and provides passage. In essence it is a connection, not only from one place to another, but also between people, thoughts, and activities. In Pittsburgh, the “City of Bridges”, we have 446 bridges, more than any other city in the world. The average person most likely does not take into account the engineering, mathematics, dedication, and artistry that are used to create each and every bridge.  It is taken for granted that these bridges will remain safe when we want to travel from one place to another. As residents of Pittsburgh we are, in a sense, trusting our engineers to get us from one location to another safely.

What really goes into creating a bridge? There are many questions that an engineer – and our students – will need to address.  First, what kind of bridge is being created? There are beam bridges, truss, arch, suspension, cable, stayed, and covered. Will the bridge carry pedestrians or bicycles?  Will it carry trains, cars, or trucks?  Will it be a drawbridge that a large tug boat can travel under? Second, how will the bridge be constructed? Will it be constructed of stone, brick, wood, or steel?  What mathematical elements, such as shape, scale, proportion, and mass are considered? How are the structural materials chosen? Third, what is the environment of the bridge?  Will it span roadways, water, deep gorges, or mountain tops? Finally, we will address how people utilize bridges as a metaphor. We will ask the students to create a self-portrait to interact with their bridges. What does “bridging differences” mean? What does “don’t burn your bridges” say about the consequences of severing a relationship?

Participants will explore ideas related to building bridges, metaphorically connecting with the others in the groups. Photographs of famous bridges will be viewed for inspiration. We will begin with two-dimensional bridge drawings and, by the end of the program, we will produce three-dimensional bridges. We will be counting how many recycled objects are used per bridge, and per class. Each small group will make murals to contextualize the type and location of the bridge. Participants will be able to create a sculpture to represent themselves and place this object within the finished product. The final three-dimensional bridges (which will be small-scale models) will be created from pieces of wood, cardboard, wire, recycled objects, and craft materials. Bridges will be painted and personalized.

Engineering concepts and simple mathematical equations will be taken into account to create a strong bridge, and then the process will be translated into a discussion of how having a good foundation and making strong connections are important skills to develop in one’s life.

One might ask why building bridges are important. In Pittsburgh, we view and cross bridges frequently. The overall concept of a bridge has multiple meanings and can be related to many areas of one’s life. The meanings that will be discussed will be those of connections, strength, and trust—all of which are reflected in interpersonal relationships. On a daily basis we display a level of trust in people/ professionals we have never met.   For example, we trust our community helpers such as crossing guards and firefighters, who need bridges too. Participants will be symbolically building trust bridges with the other members of the group. On a practical level, we will explore mathematics and engineering concepts, since these fields are vital in the creation of bridges. This intersection of math, engineering, and art will provide the participants with valuable insights into the creation of not only stone and mortar bridges, but also bridges within the interpersonal realm.