The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Othmar Ammann

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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.

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