Arc of triumph

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The Independent Online

From Venice's Rialto Bridge with its double row of shops, to historic London Bridge crowded with houses, everybody loves a river crossing. Coming closer to today, suspension bridges - picture San Francisco Bay's Golden Gate or Edinburgh's Firth of Forth - delight the eye with their economy of means: those slender strands holding up those fantastic weighs.

From Venice's Rialto Bridge with its double row of shops, to historic London Bridge crowded with houses, everybody loves a river crossing. Coming closer to today, suspension bridges - picture San Francisco Bay's Golden Gate or Edinburgh's Firth of Forth - delight the eye with their economy of means: those slender strands holding up those fantastic weighs.

Of course, functionality appeals: pedestrians and vehicles have to get to the other side of gorges and rivers. But in bridging, if anywhere in modern engineering, the practical seems to take second place to the beautiful. So we are pleased to note that the Civic Trust has named the Severn Bridge near Bristol, built in 1961, as the winner of its 40th-anniversary competition for the best bridge in Britain.

In the notable words of the South West director of the Highways Agency, "It is a consummate expression of the civil engineer's art in that, although it appears so impossibly fragile in its lightness and grace, it is capable of carrying vehicles up to 203 tonnes in weight." And, with nary a wobble.

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