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  • Dream Bridges—Traumbrücken
  • Rob Harle
Dream Bridges—Traumbrücken by Wolfdietrich Ziesel. Springer-Verlag, Vienna, Austria and New York, 2004. 247 pp., illus. Trade. ISBN: 3-211-21269-8.

This book is both inspiring and delightful. All the text is written in both English and German. "A voice crying in the wilderness" is a phrase used to describe the passion and vision of Wolfdietrich Ziesel. The wilderness alluded to is the impoverished emptiness of postmodernism driven by "turbo-capitalism."

While the subject of the book is bridges, the book is really about dreams, "a compilation of thoughts about desires and dreams relating to bridges" (p. 9). It is about the state of the built environment and the quality of life associated with, and in turn influenced by, the integrity of architects, engineers, planners and construction company executives. Ziesel argues (p. 12), as does Jörg Schlaich (pp. 54-59), that this integrity leaves much to be desired in our contemporary society.

Schlaich also stresses, quite forcefully, that the dramatic increase in technologies, which should engender innovation and an exquisitely built environment, has done just the opposite. Technology, especially computer design applications, has the potential to liberate or enslave a designer's imagination. The elimination of the engagement of extreme creative efforts, by allowing computer software to take over, as it were, is a recipe for a bland, uninspired, soulless built environment.

Dream Bridges is lavishly illustrated with sketches, engineering drawings and photographs, both color and black and white. There are six essays, including one by Ziesel himself; all are inspiring and challenging. The first essay—Ziesel's "Dreaming about Bridges—Dream Bridges"—explains his attitude to design and his passion for all things bridges, both metaphorically and literally. Ziesel is professor and director of the Institute for Statics and Theory of Structures at the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna.

Günter Feuerstein's essay "What Is Truth?" discusses the notion of truth to materials and truth of appearances. He believes Ziesel's work "stands for a new truth, a new beauty, and therefore a new transcendence in building, without his being doctrinaire or puritanical" (p. 23). As already mentioned, Schlaich, in "Wolfdietrich Ziesel: A Voice Crying in the Wilderness," challenges contemporary architects and engineers and the way they are trained, suggesting alternative methods. Monika Gentner's essay "Somewhere over the Rainbow" uses examples from literature to help us understand the importance of bridges, not so much in their literal, structural sense but in their metaphorical imaginative power. The architects Brell, Cokcan, in "Pedestrian Bridge of the Golden Horn," discuss the favorable influence of Ziesel's teaching: "He taught us not just to dream our architecture, but to live it" (p. 184). Finally, Otto Kapfinger's essay "The Art of Civil Engineering: An Unknown Species in [End Page 169] Austria?" comments quite critically on the state of the built environment in Austria, including historical examples and architecture's relationship with technology.

The book is mostly set in Austria, Ziesel's homeland, and most of the structures are from this part of Europe. When I started the book, I wondered if this visionary and globally aware designer/engineer would mention the Harbour Bridge in Sydney, Australia—arguably one of the greatest creative engineering feats of the 20th century. And, yes, indeed on page 16 there is a mention of our beloved "Coathanger," as we Ozzies like to call it. Many of the great landmark bridges around the world are mentioned throughout the course of the book, giving considerable credibility to Ziesel's authority as a leading innovative engineer.

The book has an excellent graphic layout and would be at home on any coffee table, though it is far more serious than just a "nice" production. There is no bibliography, which I think would have been useful for students and researchers. Some of the essays could have been longer and perhaps a little more in-depth, especially concerning a bridge's relationship to the two locations it connects, although this aspect of the book is covered to a certain extent in the text accompanying the 20 or so "case studies" that intersperse the essays.

This book is essential reading for all built...


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pp. 169-170
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