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Tag: bridges (Page 2 of 2)

An Ode to Concrete

“This is Bombay, my friend, Bombay. Here the buildings are made of cement, and people’s hearts are made of stone.”

-The Beggar, Shree 420 (1955)

David Edgerton explains in his book The Shock of the Old that concrete, asbestos-cement, and corrugated metal are examples of creole technologies—technologies that originated in one place but took on new uses and meanings elsewhere. These materials in their modern forms were western inventions, but they have been particularly significant in the development of the poor world.1

It would be difficult, or perhaps impossible, to imagine modern India without concrete. The material can be produced cheaply and worked easily by either labor-intensive or capital-intensive methods. As such, it is the foundation—both literally as well as metaphorically—for much of India’s infrastructure.

The following gallery illustrates the complex and varied uses of concrete in contemporary India.

  1. David Edgerton, The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 42-3. []

Rebuilding bridges

In the nineteenth century, the American South’s carriage roads used to cross the region’s many streams and rivers by means of wooden truss bridges. Very few of these bridges have survived into the twenty-first century, having falling prey to fire, floods, storms, modernization—and in some cases, the Union Army. A few bridges have survived, tucked away in isolated, underpopulated areas. Perhaps because of their rarity, covered bridges have acquired romantic mythos, even though they were originally built for economic development, not romance.1 Websites like this one catalog the surviving covered bridges in the region.

It came as a surprise when I realized that my map of Lee County, Alabama indicated that there was a covered bridge not far from where I live. According to the map, the Salem-Shotwell Bridge was just off of US-280, the highway that runs from Opelika, AL to Columbus, GA. I followed the map out to the indicated location one Saturday afternoon. Before I quite got to the bridge, a sign planted in the middle of the road claimed: “Bridge Closed Ahead.”

That was an understatement. As I got closer, I discovered that the bridge had vanished completely.

The forlorn original foundation of the Salem-Shotwell Bridge.

The forlorn original foundation of the Salem-Shotwell Bridge.

My map was more than a half-decade out of date. Come to find out, the bridge had broken in 2005, when a tree smashed into it during one of the fearsome thunderstorms that occur from time to time in the Alabama Piedmont.

The Salem-Shotwell Bridge’s destruction was an unfortunate loss, but it was not a complete waste. Enough of the original timbers and roofing had survived undamaged for the bridge to be reconstructed, with a shorter span, over a creek in Municipal Park in Opelika.

The reconstructed Salem-Shotwell Bridge at its new location in Opelika Municipal Park.

The reconstructed Salem-Shotwell Bridge at its new location in Opelika Municipal Park.

Side view of the reconstructed Salem-Shotwell Bridge.

Side view of the reconstructed Salem-Shotwell Bridge.

Interior of the Salem-Shotwell Bridge.

Interior of the Salem-Shotwell Bridge.

Detail of the Town Truss of Salem-Shotwell Bridge.

Detail of the Town Truss of Salem-Shotwell Bridge.

Some of the leftover parts were used for the sign that identifies the bridge:

Wasting well: the bridge sign, made from unused parts of the original bridge.

Wasting well: the bridge sign, made from unused parts of the original bridge.

The underside of the bridge holds a secret: steel I-beams, which support the weight of the reconstructed bridge. The original wooden truss (known as a Town Truss, after its inventor) is now just for show.

I-beams or no I-beams, I’m glad that the Salem-Shotwell Bridge was reconstructed. Its reconstruction is an example of what Kevin Lynch would call wasting well. Even in its present state, the bridge teaches anybody who sees it a little about the past.

  1. A good book about southern covered bridges and their mythos is John S. Lupold and Thomas L. French, Bridging Deep South Rivers: The Life and Legend of Horace King (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004). []

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