Crossing Guadiana River, Merida, Spain Designer/Engineer Santiago Calatrava Completed 1991 Span 620 feet (189 meters)

Materials Steel, concrete Type Arch and box girder

The arch and its reflection form an unblinking, all-seeing eye.

As the twentieth century drew to a close, the Spanish-born, Zurich-based Santiago Calatrava (1951-) emerged as the era’s most inventive and controversial bridge builder. Trained as an artist, architect, and engineer, Calatrava had, in a short time and with seeming disregard for the sacrosanct boundaries of contemporary architecture and engineering, cut a wide, exuberant swath with constructions ranging from museums, train stations, and libraries to warehouses and bridges.

The Lusitania Bridge connects Merida’s historic section with Pohgono on the northern side of the Guadiana River. It consists of three parts: a steel arch that spans between arched concrete abutments, and two concrete box girder side spans supported by a series of twin concrete piers. Just over 1,500 feet (457 meters) long, with a center span of 620 feet (189 meters), the Lusitania is a small bridge, perfectly suited to the scale of its location. Calatrava’s calibration to the human scale is also apparent in the bridge’s pedestrian walkway, which, elevated above the roadways, provides unobstructed views of the river. The supreme art of living is a consummation gained by no single calling and no single science; it is the yield of all occupations and all sciences, and many things besides.


The Lusitania’s rotund piers have been criticized for their massive appearance, but perhaps they are an homage to the Alcazaba de Merida, the two-thousand-year-old Roman bridge less than a mile upstream, which it was built to replace. As architectural historian Kenneth Frampton has noted, Calatrava pays attention to the context of his work and to the parts of a bridge that are usually invisible its appearance from below as well as its reflection on the surface of the water to underscore the structure’s plasticity and movement. Movement, the added dimension of every Calatrava project, is critical to his conception of his structures, which he likens to living things, such as “the sea that has waves that move, or. a flower whose petals open in the morning.”

What seems to gall Calatrava’s critics most, although he is both an architect and engineer, is his audacious insistence on combining those roles. Those professions were once inseparable, but in the century following the salad days of Telford and Eiffel, civil engineers became increasingly specialized, with most having a narrow, almost exclusively technical education and limited design experience, a condition exacerbated by clients, who typically wanted the cheapest safe solution possible.

It is no understatement to say that Calatrava has liberated engineering from those limitations. Not just with his bridges, sophisticated tensile structures that look like they have emerged from the distant past or the far future, but with his multidisciplinary sensibility and flair for showmanship, he has energized bridge design and bridge designers.

Calatrava’s works seem to suggest, in the same instant, imminent flight and collapse. This quality is evident in the dynamic sweep of the Alamillo Bridge (1992), built adjacent to the Expo 92 site in Seville, Spain.

Nighttime lighting emphasizes the dynamic structure of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge (2012), a landmark addition to the Dallas, Texas, skyline.

Partnering among the National Park Service, the Federal Highway Administration, and contractor, PCL Civil Constructors, fostered an efficient resolution of issues, an approach that delivered the $11.3 million bridge on schedule and without legal action, cost increases, or accidents.

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