Calatrava’s Bridge in Jerusalem Incites Controversy

May 5, 2008

By Esther Hecht

Construction of Santiago Calatrava’s elegant, lyre-shaped suspension bridge at the entrance to Jerusalem is due to be finished at the end of May, despite a history of opposition from residents, environmental groups, and others—and an apparent lack of purpose in the short term.

Calatrava’s Bridge in Jerusalem

Image courtesy Ikan Maas Media

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The $69.8 million, white steel span is part of Jerusalem’s as-yet-unfinished mass transit system. Unlike the many Calatrava bridges set over waterways, this one passes over a river of vehicular traffic. It will connect two perpendicular sections of a light-rail line, one on Jaffa Road and the other on Herzl Boulevard, and a walkway will help pedestrians negotiate the massive intersection. Proponents, including Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, tout it as a sculptural gateway to the city and as a magnet that will attract tourists.

Calatrava has cited biblical inspiration for his design, specifically Psalm 150:3, which reads: “Praise Him with a blast of the trumpet; praise Him with the lyre and harp!” The bridge resembles a harp pointing to heaven, signifying that Jerusalem is a meeting place between man and God. Its gently curving span is suspended by 66 cables from a tilted 387-foot mast, anchored in concrete, that resembles a bolt of lightning. The mast is set at an angle to the deck of the bridge and it bends roughly halfway up, so the entire mast forms an angle of roughly 150 degrees. Cables are attached at various heights on its tapered top half, creating cross-hatched visual patterns as they seem to swirl out from the mast. At the sharpest bend of the bridge, the slightly concave, boat-shaped deck and the shape of the bend transfer the load to the ends of the bridge, which is 525 feet long; access ramps, clad in stone, add another 656 feet. A walkway on its southern side has glass decking and a glass railing.

Opponents have objected to an alleged lack of transparency in the planning process and to the higher cost of a suspension bridge, said in 2004 to be nearly 70 percent more than that of a conventional concrete bridge. Others also contend that Jerusalem, sacred to three religions but also the poorest city in Israel, already has enough monuments to attract tourists and does not need to spend money on yet another monument. And some observers have complained that the bridge is located too close to surrounding apartment buildings.

A temporary injunction against above-ground construction in 2006 prompted transit officials to warn that the bridge might not be completed in time to connect the two sections of the light-rail system. Ironically, though, the situation has since reversed. Calatrava’s structure will be a bridge to nowhere for at least two years. Light-rail tracks are being laid in the meantime, and the temporary supports will be lowered gradually so it can be stress-tested. It’s unclear, though, if pedestrians will be able to use the finished bridge until the light-rail lines are in operation.


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