Sunday, July 30, 2017

Willamette River Crossings: Van Buren Street Bridge in Corvallis, Oregon

July 2017 (44.5655, -123.2566) Van Buren Street Bridge
I recently flew to Corvallis to attend a meeting on bridge design criteria for tsunami loads. Since I was going to be in Oregon, I brought my camera to photograph some of the bridges across the Willamette River. I had previously photographed Willamette River Crossings during a previous visit in 2009 and I thought I'd add a few bridges that I had missed during that visit.
The main body of the Willamette River is 187 miles long and flows north through Oregon into the Columbia River. The Van Buren Street Bridge is a multi-span truss bridge with timber approaches and a swing span near the east bank of the river. This bridge is remarkable in a number of ways. It is the first bridge built in Corvallis to span across the Willamette (in 1913). Despite it's age, it continues to carry heavy truck traffic. It's also Oregon's last remaining movable truss bridge with pinned connections.
The Van Buren Street Bridge is 708 ft long and carries one lane of traffic east across the Willamette (the nearby Harrison Street Bridge carries the westbound traffic). There is also a six ft wide wooden walkway on the south side of the bridge. Starting from the east end, the bridge is composed of a long timber approach (not shown), then a pony truss span, then the Pratt through truss swing span, then a long Parker through truss span, and finally three steel girder spans (that replaced the original pony truss) and more timber approach spans (not shown) at the east end of the bridge. The main spans are supported on concrete piers.
The bridge is owned by the Oregon DOT and the chief bridge engineer told me the bridge was recently strengthened but they plan to eventually replace it (although the replacement isn't currently in the budget). The old bridge will either remain in place (as a pedestrian and bike bridge) or it will be moved to a park. The east approach spans are shown below.
The existing bridge was fabricated in Portland and then shipped down to Corvallis where it was reassembled. The swing span required six people to turn a long wooden paddle that was inserted through the deck into a key that engaged a small gear that rotated one of two large gears that turned the bridge (one gear opened it fast and the other opened it more slowly). The last time the swing span was opened was in 1960.
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Sunday, July 23, 2017

19th and 20th Century Prints and Paintings of East River Bridges: Brooklyn Bridge

There are thousands of highly abstract, moodily expressionistic, and crisply realistic paintings of the Brooklyn Bridge. I selected a few paintings that appealed to me, because of their umber hues and contemplative mood, for this week's blog on the Brooklyn Bridge. The watercolor from 1955 (shown above) is recognizable as the Brooklyn Bridge because of the tall Gothic arches. Its recognizable as a work by Lyonel Feininger because the image is representational although simplified to a few geometric shapes.
The Brooklyn Bridge is less recognizable in the 1915 painting (shown above) by the Cubist artist Albert Gliezes. He seems to be riffing on the openings in the bridge towers, the diagonals of the cables, and on the many tall buildings that surround the bridge.
An evocative painting by the contemporary artist Ed Little seems to be spiritual in nature with the dark colors of the earth ascending to the church-like spires of the bridge, and the bright, ethereal colors of the sky.
Another contemporary artist, Lazarus Nazario juxtaposed a gardenia blossom next to the Brooklyn Bridge. Perhaps she wants us to contemplate the similarities and differences between two beautiful objects. Maybe she's showing us that the bridge is important because it carries us to the people we love, symbolized by the flower.
The last painting (by Wyoming native Tom Loepp) is of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges from the tragic vantage point of the World Trade Center.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

19th and 20th Century Prints and Paintings of East River Bridges: Queensboro Bridge

Queensboro Bridge (40.7565, -73.9555)
I thought we could start looking at the bridges across the East River in New York City with some paintings of the Queensboro (or 59th Street) Bridge. This bridge is a 3724 ft long cantilever truss that was built in 1909 and designed by Gustav Lindenthal. In the last 108 years, the bridge has been rendered by artists of many different schools. The painting above (from 1913) was done by Edward Hopper, a artist whose true subject may be urban loneliness. In the painting a house is isolated and seemingly abandoned by the bridge that towers over it. The painting is impressionistic in style with warm colors in the foreground quickly fading to cold blues.
A painting by a contemporary of Hopper's, George Bellows who was considered a member of the gritty 'Ashcan School,' was done right after the bridge was built and shows a churning East River.
Even grittier is Leon Krull's painting of the Queensboro Bridge from 1912. It shows an equally choppy river, along with considerable human and industrial activity.
Moving forward in time it seems as though the East River has calmed down a little. The painting above is by the relatively unknown artist Tom Lohre who completed it in 1999. He painted it for a customer who traveled across the bridge every day for her job at the United Nations. I read that the figures in the foreground were later replaced with some friends of the patron.
The painting above by Anne Bancove gives a highly stylized depiction of the Queensboro Bridge through trees and foliage. This view is from the Roosevelt Island Small Pox Hospital in 2007.
A drawing (also from 2007) by the British painter and draftsman Rackstraw Downes shows a tower of the Queensboro Bridge next to the Roosevelt Tramway and the East River Quay.
The painting above by the British Photo-Realist painter Nathan Walsh from 2009 also includes the tramway and a Queensboro Bridge tower. I read that Walsh uses hundreds of sketches and architectural drawings to begin his paintings. I imagine the viewpoint is from one of the tramcars because we can see reflections on the window.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

19th and 20th Century Prints and Paintings of Sumida River Bridges: Prints by Mototsugu Sugiyama

This week we'll look at the work of Mototsugu Sugiyama, a late 20th century artist who made woodblock prints of many Sumida River Crossings. The picture above is of the Kototoi Bridge (a three span haunched steel girder bridge) just downstream for the Sakura Bridge. The elevated Metropolitan Expressway can be seen on the east bank of the Sumida River.
The next print is of the Azuma Bridge just a little downstream from the Kototoi Bridge. In this print (above) we are looking down and to the west at this three span steel arch bridge (maybe from the Asahi brewery or from the Sky Tree?)
Continuing downstream we arrive at the bright blue Kiyosu Bridge, a three span self anchored steel link suspension bridge. Looking south, we can see the elevated Metropolitan Expressway and some tall two-tone apartment buildings in the background.
Continuing south we arrive at the Eitai (through arch) Bridge with the Chuo (cable stayed) Bridge to the west in the background. The apartments we saw in the previous print are closer and we also see the canals and artificial islands that interrupt the Sumida River at this location.
Continuing downstream we get a closer look at the apartments (on an artificial island) and of the Chuo Bridge (above). Continuing downstream (below) we see the Kachidoki (lift) Bridge with Tokyo Bay and the Rainbow Bridge in the background.
In this brief survey of Mototsugu Sugiyama's art we get some excellent examples of his use of color to capture the way light is reflected on the Sumida River. Sugiyama strikes me as a true successor to Kobayashi Kiyochika whose use of light, shadow, and perspective brought traditional Japanese woodblock printing into the 20th Century.


Sunday, July 2, 2017

19th and 20th Century Prints and Paintings of Sumida River Bridges: Ryogoku Bridge (3)

(35.694, 139.789) Ryogoku Bridge
I thought that this week we would concentrate on views from the deck of the Ryogoku Bridge. A popular theme for Japanese woodblock prints is people congregating along a bridge railing to enjoy the evening breeze. The print above, by Kitagawa Utamaro from 1796, shows his specialty of 'bijou okubi-e,' beautiful women with large heads, in this case leaning against the railing of the Ryogoku Bridge and engaged in conversation.
A triptych by another popular ukioy-e artist, Ando Hiroshige shows another favorite theme, people enjoying the view at sunset. This print is one of 'Eight Views of Famous Places in Edo' from 1847. We've seen other 'evening glow' prints in previous blogs.
Two other themes that are popular in Japanese woodblock prints are scenes with fireworks and scenes with moonlight. These two themes are shown together in the print above by Hokusai from 1790.
I mentioned last week that the history of the Ryogoku Bridge is interlinked with the history of Japan.  For instance, the Ryogoku Bridge plays an important role in the story of the 47 Ronin.

An emissary of the emperor was insulted by an official at the court of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Losing his temper, the emissary drew his sword and scratched the forehead of the official as a sign of his displeasure. The drawing of a katana was forbidden in court and so he was ordered to commit seppuku, all his property was confiscated, and his samurai became homeless ronin. Being loyal to their master the 47 ronin carefully developed a plan and several years later killed the official. The woodblock above (by Hiroshige) and below (by Kuniyoshi) show the Ronin being stopped by another official on the deck of the Ryogoku Bridge after the murder.

In the 18th century the Ryogoku Bridge carried an important road between Edo and Kyoto (ryogoku means 'two nations'). The ronin were ordered to take the Eitai Bridge to Fukagawa instead, where they wouldn't be hassled. The story of the 47 Ronin is called the 'Chushingura,' and is one of the most popular stories in Japan.