The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for the ‘George Washington Bridge’ Category

vast enclosure

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

When you cut things down to the bone, and ask yourself the question “Who was the New Yorker that most profoundly changed the City?” it always comes back to one fellow. Ray Kelly or Mike Bloomberg would vie for the crown in modernity, in the long view of history Alexander Hamilton, DeWitt Clinton, Boss Tweed, or the Roebling clan have major claims on the title. Robert Moses would tell you that it was himself, and arguably, so would Osama Bin Laden.

In the opinion of a humble narrator, the crown belongs to one man- a Swedish immigrant named Othmar Ammann, and today is his birthday.

from wikipedia

Othmar Hermann Ammann (March 26, 1879 – September 22, 1965) was a American structural engineer whose designs include the George Washington Bridge, Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and Bayonne Bridge.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Brooklyn Bridge has the fame, Williamsburg Bridge the infamy, Manhattan Bridge is overlooked. The bridges of Othmar Ammann, however, are the ones which shaped the modern megalopolis and allowed the expansion and diaspora of New York’s laborers from the tenement neighborhoods of the five boroughs to the suburban satellites of modernity. The vast populations of Long Island and New Jersey and Westchester who commute into the city on a daily basis would have never achieved their current size, were Ammann removed from the story.

As a side note, and just to toot my own horn for a moment, the shot above was published last year in the New York Times- check it out here

Also from wikipedia

Othmar Ammann designed more than half of the eleven bridges that connect New York City to the rest of the United States. His talent and ingenuity helped him create the two longest suspension bridges of his time. Ammann was known for being able to create bridges that were light and inexpensive, yet they were still simple and beautiful. He was able to do this by using the deflection theory. He believed that the weight per foot of the span and the cables would provide enough stiffness so that the bridge would not need any stiffening trusses. This made him popular during the depression era when being able to reduce the cost was crucial. Famous bridges by Ammann include:

  • George Washington Bridge (opened October 24, 1931)
  • Bayonne Bridge (opened November 15, 1931)
  • Triborough Bridge (opened July 11, 1936)
  • Bronx-Whitestone Bridge (opened April 29, 1939)
  • Walt Whitman Bridge (opened May 16, 1957)
  • Throgs Neck Bridge (opened January 11, 1961)
  • Verrazano Narrows Bridge (opened November 21, 1964)

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Othmar Ammann was a bit of an artist, his bridges achieving a rare thing for engineering projects, which is the elevation of a functional structure to the sublime. A prevailing theory in fine art and graphic design which emerged in the 20th century is “less is more”, and Ammann’s spans are manifestations of this concept in steel and cement.

from smithsonian.com

By the early 1960s, when the George Washington’s lower deck was added (as specified in the original plans), Ammann had all but eclipsed his mentor. Ammann’s other 1931 creation, the Bayonne Bridge connecting Staten Island and New Jersey, was until 1977 the world’s largest steel arch bridge — more than 600 feet longer than the previous record holder, Lindenthal’s Hell Gate Bridge.

Months before his death in 1965, Ammann gazed through a telescope from his 32nd-floor Manhattan apartment. In his viewfinder was a brand-new sight some 12 miles away: his Verrazano-Narrows suspension bridge. As if in tribute to the engineering prowess that made Ammann’s George Washington Bridge great, this equally slender, graceful span would not be surpassed in length for another 17 years.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Eclipsed by the vain and power seeking during his sunset years, Ammann is one of the forgotten few who crafted the connections between the individual components of the archipelago islands of New York Harbor. Mighty Triborough or the graceful arch of the Bayonne Bridge speak to his sense of esthetic, and indicate that he was in touch with some higher imperative than merely moving automobiles from one place to another.

from nytimes.com

His works soar above the water, spanning the city’s rivers and connecting New York to the rest of the country. But who has heard of Othmar H. Ammann?

Donald Trump hadn’t, at least not back in 1964 when he was a high school student and his father took him to the dedication ceremony for the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. ”It was a sad experience,” Mr. Trump recalled. ”For years, various politicians had fought the bridge. Now that it was built, I watched as these same people all got up and took credit for it, congratulating themselves and introducing one another. The only one not introduced was the man who made the bridge, Othmar Ammann.

George Washington Bridge

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

Way outside of the Newtown Pentacle, straddling the Hudson River, is found an artifice called the George Washington Bridge.

from wikipedia

Groundbreaking for the new bridge began in October 1927, a project of the Port of New York Authority. Its chief engineer was Othmar Ammann, with Cass Gilbert as architect. The bridge was dedicated on October 24, 1931, and opened to traffic the following day. Initially named the “Hudson River Bridge,” the bridge is named in honor of George Washington, the first President of the United States. The Bridge is near the sites of Fort Washington (on the New York side) and Fort Lee (in New Jersey), which were fortified positions used by General Washington and his American forces in his unsuccessful attempt to deter the British occupation of New York City in 1776 during the American Revolutionary War. Washington evacuated Manhattan by crossing between the two forts. In 1910 the Washington Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution erected a stone monument to the Battle of Fort Washington. The monument is located about 100 yards (91 m) northeast of the Little Red Lighthouse, up the hill towards the eastern bridge anchorage.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Gleaming, the unclad steel of the GWB distinguishes it from the other bridges. A product of pure utility, its beauty is achieved in the simplicity of purpose.

from wikipedia

Othmar Ammann designed more than half of the eleven bridges that connect New York City to the rest of the United States. His talent and ingenuity helped him create the two longest suspension bridges of his time. Ammann was known for being able to create bridges that were light and inexpensive, yet they were still simple and beautiful. He was able to do this by using the deflection theory. He believed that the weight per foot of the span and the cables would provide enough stiffness so that the bridge would not need any stiffening trusses. This made him popular during the depression era when being able to reduce the cost was crucial.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

These sort of geometries are organic to my eye, familiar shapes cast in the key of nature, despite being manmade. Imaginings of structures of this scope, however, represent an epoch of advanced mathematics and titan industry.

from wikipedia

Cass Gilbert was one of the first celebrity architects in America, designing skyscrapers in New York City and Cincinnati, campus buildings at Oberlin College and the University of Texas, state capitols in Minnesota and West Virginia, the support towers of the George Washington Bridge, various railroad stations (including the New Haven Union Station), and the United States Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.. His reputation declined among some professionals during the age of Modernism, but he was on the design committee that guided and eventually approved the modernist design of Manhattan’s groundbreaking Rockefeller Center: when considering Gilbert’s body of works as whole, it is more eclectic than many critics admit. In particular, his Union Station in New Haven lacks the embellishments common of the Beaux-Arts period, and contains the simple lines common in Modernism.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Note: A little commented pedestrian walkway exists on the southern side of the bridge, which is largely populated by aggressive and speeding bicycle riders shouting “out of my way”. Encounters with this crowd and phenomenon here- and on the bridges which cross that emerald ribbon of concealment called the Newtown Creek- forces me to ask- Hey, since bicycles are now considered vehicles with their own lane and all, couldn’t the Cops start requiring registration, license plates, operators licenses, INSURANCE from bikers? City and State could probably extort a whole lot of “not taxes” and “revenue enhancements” from this source.

Militant Bikers… who ride bicycles… bicycles… have demanded and received fair treatment and roadway rights as legitimate vehicles- time for the responsibility. The sign says PEDESTRIAN.

I’m walking here.

from wikipedia

The George Washington Bridge is popular among sightseers and commuters traveling by foot, bicycle, or roller skates. The South sidewalk (accessible by a long, steep ramp on the Manhattan side of the bridge) is shared by cyclists and pedestrians, with a level surface from end to end. The entrance in Manhattan is at 178th Street, just west of Cabrini Boulevard which also has access to the Hudson River Greenway north of the bridge. The sidewalk is accessible on the New Jersey side from Hudson Terrace, where a gate open in daytime and evening allows pedestrians and bikes to pass. Also on Hudson Terrace, less than one hundred yards north of the bike/ped entrance, walkers will find the start of the Long Path hiking trail, which leads after a short walk to some spectacular views of the bridge, and continues north towards Albany, New York.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

From the walkway, looking south, late summer weekend traffic on the Hudson River. Below is a preview of one of my “stitched panoramas”, whose clicking will lead you to its Flickr page which, in turn, leads to larger incarnations of this ENORMOUS multi image shot showing the West Side of Manhattan and the Eastern Shore of New Jersey from up high.

from nydailynews.com

More than one in 10 people who kill themselves in Manhattan are “suicide tourists” – out-of-towners who choose New York City landmarks to take their lives.

Their deaths cluster around some of the most famous, scenic spots in the city: the Empire State Building, Times Square and the George Washington Bridge, a new study shows.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

from nycroads.com

The “Hudson River Bridge,” as the George Washington Bridge was called in the early days, was twice the length of any existing span, and it required an intricate system of access roads to handle large volumes of traffic.

The bridge’s two steel towers, embedded deep in rock and concrete, soar 604 feet into the sky, each as tall as some of Manhattan’s great skyscrapers. They contain more than 43,000 tons of steel. Rope cables were strung from anchorages on each shore and draped in an arc between towers, like a giant silver braid. When 36 of them had been placed, catwalks were erected to provide walking platforms.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Until just yesterday, since 911, it would not have been possible to obtain these shots due to security restrictions. I would suspect that a higher level of security is in place now than formerly, and that mere photography of public areas no longer poses the threat it once did. Back in 2001, NYPD didn’t have a single attack helicopter or unmanned aerial drone, after all.

The big question about 911 is not “was it a conspiracy”, its why the de facto Capital City of the United States had no air defense. The fence was left open.

from myfoxny.com

  • In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, the Port Authority restricted photography on the bridge for security reasons (the rules have since been relaxed).
  • In 2005 and 2006, the agency installed cylindrical bomb shields on the lower the section of the bridge’s suspension cables.
  • More than 105 million vehicles crossed the George Washington Bridge in 2008, according to the Port Authority, making it one of the busiest spans in the world.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The old city was wide open, and criminally so. You can still just walk on in to too many places, crawl through too many fences. I personally observed construction gates at the Sunnyside yards left absent mindedly open over Thanksgiving weekend in 2009.

from nycroads.com

In 1955, after nearly a decade of explosive traffic growth, Robert Moses chaired the Joint Study of Arterial Facilities between the Port Authority and the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority. The Joint Study was developed to spearhead construction of new bridges and expressways, including an unbuilt Hudson River Bridge between 125th Street in Manhattan and Edgewater, New Jersey. One of the proposals called for the addition of a six-lane lower level to the George Washington Bridge.

Construction of the $20 million lower deck began in 1959. The construction of the lower deck followed Ammann’s original design. Without interruption to the eight traffic lanes above, 76 structural steel sections were hoisted onto the bridge from below. The lower deck was designed with a minimum clearance of 15 feet between the upper and lower deck roadways. Even with the addition of the lower deck, the bridge had a clearance of 213 feet over the Hudson River. Stiffening trusses were incorporated into the design of the lower deck to provide additional stability against torsion. The additional weight required a slight adjustment on the rollers atop the towers.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

As longtime readers of this Newtown Pentacle may have guessed by now, I’m into infrastructure. Big stuff, meta stuff, supranormal. My senses reel at scale and scope, which is how I quantize and manage reality. Parts, which fit together, forming dynamic systems and “chain of falling dominos” networked causalities.

On the aforementioned Sept. 11, one of the things that kept going through my head were numbers. How many desks, houseplants, mops, toilet fixtures, light bulbs, shoes?

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Just then, the leader of this municipal adventure over the GWB gestured toward the river, and at an approaching ship.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The John J. Harvey Fireboat was returning from Poughkeepsie and its Fourth of July duties. The Harvey, of course, was one of the ships that fought those fires.

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 14, 2009 at 1:12 am

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