On Ponte Morandi


Title Image: Stefano Rellandini/Reuters

The news of the bridge collapse in Genoa, Italy has had me concerned in a while. Although the official report is yet to come out, I think the potential causes of this tragedy might be either a faulty design or maintenance, maybe overloading and windy weather added to it too. It’s all speculation on my side.

I initially heard the news from a Berkeley friend, who has been cruising on Highway E10 through Italy during the holiday, and had his travel itinerary affected due to the bridge collapse. That certainly made the news feel so much closer to me.

And yet there’s another reason.

Bridges were one of the first things that fascinated me in my childhood, and so one of the things that led me into physics and design. Crossing the untraversed or unnavigable landscapes, water bodies, and settlements, what a altruistic and beautiful invention bridges make.

I heard the song by Kyle Gabler, “Ode to the Bridge Builders” in World of Goo, and it remains one of my personal leitmotif to this day. In childhood bed or otherwise, I have imagined endless high rise highways encompassing my hometown, supported by rainbow bridges that allow pedestrian crossing and hi-rise bus services; I envisioned sea-crossing suspension bridges like they’ve built around the world; I enjoyed putting down and traversing through 36-block tall constructs in Track-mania⋯

Not soon after that, the gravity of reality’s mechanics kept me aground. Bridge building now seems to me fundamentally a human involvement, it can be done; it can be messy.

Bridge building ceased to feel like picture drawing — no matter how accurately I sketched my models — I learned the impacts of a varying load; eigenvalues of a bridge swaying in the wind; degradation and relaxation of metals and concrete. Physics and design doesn’t hide in these. Rather, they manifest themselves, requiring due considerations and rigorous attention to every detail.

About the one thing I deeply agree with (the old) Apple is the holistic approach to design, that true designing effort is far from only how something works and looks, but also how it ages and gets maintained. This process also feels like healthcare, somewhat, the dichotomy of regular check-ups vs. not caring before preventable diseases gets out of hand, which sounds better?

It’s an entropy-driven world. Perhaps fortunately so. However, no one, one person, one bridge or one design, stands the erosion of time.

On the other hand, maybe it actually does.

Maybe we can.

Maybe, we actually do, as a whole, as one collective that renews and fixes things.

We might ship-of-Theseus through all of this turbulent and nebulous times together.

A new bridge may soon be build at about the same spot, serving largely the same traffic. And there will be a time when it begins to degrade; when bridges around the world begin to degrade. But they might also live on, with the care and attention from people after their original builders.

May the victims Rest In Peace.

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