Bridges: The Art and Science for Creating Community Connections

2008 Volume IV

Introduction by Martin D. Gehner, Professor Emeritus of Architectural Engineering

Bridges are wonderful creations set in the landscapes of all civilizations. Based on the human mandate to traverse the landscape, bridges capture the attention for simple structures as well as for complex artifacts which demand intense daily use. They soar across canyons, rivers, and our earth's terrain with the mark of human ingenuity, pragmatic utilitarianism, and poetic delight. Some connect buildings, some connect activities within buildings, some connect countries, some capture the bonds of human rapture. Bridges are essential in every community of the world. They establish physical links and relationships between communities.

Although the phrase building bridges is a metaphor for many kinds of positive human activities, this seminar dwelt on the art and science of building physical bridges. Throughout history, bridges have demonstrated how people have creatively used natural materials together with available current technology to create useful community links. Whether for economics, for social relationships, for symbolic identification, or merely for pragmatic reasons, a bridge establishes links of opportunity for the well being of society. Bridges also have a poetic soul. Their setting establishes whether a bridge exemplifies the symbolic identity of a region (as one might find in the Skyway bridge in Tampa Bay), a romantic moment in history (as one might see in the Rialto bridge in Venice), a graceful connector above crevasses (as one might see in the Salginatobel bridge in Switzerland), or a crowded path for daily travel (as one might see in the numerous bridges connecting Manhattan with surrounding regions).

To create a bridge means that processes for development, planning, resource identification, design, engineering, construction, operation, and maintenance must be successfully orchestrated and achieved. Building a bridge demands the proper use of materials and methods of construction as based on the associated depth of science combined with the knowledge of inherent design parameters. Forces, strength, scale, stability, structural systems, form, and support must be integrated into a whole entity which performs to meet the significant demands of intense use and defying nature's impositions.

The seminar was based on learning about creating a bridge with a focus on the art of design, the science for engineering and constructing, and the historical precedents of bridges over many centuries. The curriculum units emerging from the participating fellows presents an expected variety of interests and applications. Each unit offers a very unique range of classroom study and activities depending on the level, and number, of students in the class, the focus of learning for the topic being taught, and the special interests of the teacher. The seminar was enriched by the range of expertise of the fellows including, Art, Physics, AP Physics, Spanish, History, Earth Science, Earthquakes, Mathematics, Social Studies, Honors classes, and Special Studies for gifted and talented students.

The range of student levels taught by the seminar fellows involve the entire spectrum from kindergarten through high school. Another variable represented by the seminar fellows, was the range of class size required for each unit. By itself, that factor demanded some innovative approaches to make learning meaningful and individually significant for each student. Over 620 students are expected to learn from these nine curriculum units as initially described. With the dedication and enthusiasm of each of the unit's authors, our seminar's fellows, these students are sure to experience inspiration and discovery of their talents and interests which will influence their subsequent learning in significant proportions. Building bridges will become the metaphor for life experiences.

These nine curriculum units, which you will see are vastly different, have one common classroom activity. All the units include a project where the students are engaged in a project to design and build a bridge. Although each curriculum unit has a unique approach, this challenge invites a student to create and build an object for which they must make decisions. The reality of the process provides direct feedback and self-evaluation of individual efforts. The learn-by-doing process magnifies the learning, especially when seeing the results of colleagues in addition to their own efforts. Visual literacy, knowledge based literacy, and craft ability combine as one potent process of learning.

The curriculum units emerging from this seminar must be considered as stepping stones. Each one when used in their respective settings will necessarily become a format for new opportunities for learning whether in content or in presentation. Some students will blossom with curiosity and seek to learn at individual levels of interests and abilities. In the end, all units have ways to address the arts and sciences for creating community connections in a tangible, visual, and knowledgeable context of our world.

Martin D. Gehner