Abstract: "Structure as Symbolism: Pylons as Tools for Cultural Expression in the Asia-Pacific Region", IABSE 2023

DJI 0753
October 4, 2023

Dissing+Weitling attended the IABSE New Delhi Congress 2023 giving five speaches and submitting ditto papers about the work we do within the field of mobility. This is one of five abstracts.

  • Toll island new view
    The iterative process arrived at a design for Cebu-Cordova Link that pays homage to the history at Cebu.
  • Abstract

    In supporting both the deck and cable weight within suspension and cable-stayed bridges, the essential function of pylons provides architectural opportunity. Dissing+Weitling presents three case studies from China, the Philippines, and Australia to demonstrate how pylons can be transformed into design drivers of a bridge’s aesthetic symbolism.

    Recognizing the role infrastructure can play in engaging with local and indigenous user groups, this paper examines how design choices regarding colour, negative space, lighting design, and the physicality of pylons can reinforce cultural identity. In recognizing the symbolic potential of pylons – a structural necessity – mobility architecture can provide iconic, culturally responsive, and locally meaningful infrastructure.

  • Dissing Weitling Longmen Bridge render Overview
    Render of Longmen Bridge - The Dragon's Gate - in Guangxi Province, China.
  • 1. Structure as Symbolism

    Infrastructure is an investment in community. At its most reductive, a bridge is a safe crossing – and yet the potential for each individual infrastructure development to reflect and reinforce cultural values cannot be understated. Mobility architecture provides an opportunity to infuse infrastructure development with cultural iconography. Across scales and geographies, a bridge design can provide a physical and metaphorical platform of expression.

    Key to achieving this is consideration of how structural necessities can expand in scope. This paper considers the role pylons can play in maximizing cultural responsiveness in infrastructure. In recognizing the architectural potential of pylons to broaden a bridge’s visual impact – a project’s overall aesthetic expression can directly engage with cultural iconography that speaks to its community and most frequent users.

    Pylons are incredible tools for mobility architects to design culturally responsive infrastructure. They are an essential feature of a bridge – and hold immense potential for storytelling. As a Danish architecture firm with a robust mobility portfolio across the Asia-Pacific, Dissing+Weitling works in partnership with project stakeholderes to ensure bridge designs feel as if they emerge from the place they cross.

    Pylons can therefore be viewed as design drivers – key to unlocking the aesthetic expression of entire structures.

  • Dissing Weitling Longmen Bridge Render Bridge east
    Rendering of H-Pylons of Longmen Bridge.
  • 2. Longmen Bridge

    A major component of the Guangxi Binhai Expressway connecting the Beibu Gulf Economic Zone – the Longmen Bridge is the first mega bridge in Guangxi Province. The project scope asked the design team to consider was asked to consider how the bridge’s visual impact could not only be a landmark – but a physical embodiment of regional culture. This design constraint was met with an additional consideration: the client requested incorporation of painted colour and Chinese storytelling into the design concept.

    Inspired by cultural visual and architectural traditions, the H-Pylons of Longmen are reimagined as two traditional Chinese gates. Placed on either side of the water crossing, they become striking points of entry and departure – providing a spatial connection for the user between bridge and landscape. Dissing+Weitling’s architecture approach to Longmen combines a desire for an effective transportation solution with a transformation of bridge into destination.

  • Dissing+Weitling, Cebu-Cordova Link, render birdview
    Visualization of Cebu-Cordova Link Expressway.

    The mobility architecture of Longmen achieves the client’s intended effect without sacrificing a sleek aesthetic expression: the Dragon’s Gate pylons provide the framework for the entire visual language of the structure. In allowing the H-pylons to play this role, the idea of ‘bridge as gateway’ becomes a visceral experience and allows cultural symbolism to contribute to landmark placemaking.

  • 3. Cebu-Cordova Link Expressway

    Opened in April 2022, the Cebu-Cordova Link Expressway (CCLEX) is the longest and tallest bridge in the Philippines. Improving connectivity and reducing traffic congestion – the bridge connects the Mactan Island town of Cordova with the nation’s second largest city, Cebu City and reduces travel time between the two islands by approximately forty minutes.

    Embracing the pylons as tools for cultural and architectural expression, the architectural team engaged in an iterative process to arrive at a design that could directly pay homage to the history of Cebu. Working with the central concept of Magellan’s Cross – and its historical evolution as a symbol of Filipino Catholicism, waymarking for Cebu City, and contemporary tourist destination – pylon design was a sculptural process.

    CCLEX demonstrates how the bridge structure can reinforce cultural identity: no additional ornamentation is added to the pylon – the cross emerges from the manipulation of the structural design. While the pylon is certainly the signature of the infrastructure – the cross is not overbearing, even when illuminated.

  • Causeway cam 25 update
    Visualization of Swan River Causeway.

    Swan River Causeway is an ambitious project: pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, ensemble bridge with the heritage-listed Causeway Bridge, and crossing over sacred Aboriginal land in Perth, Australia. The project contributes to a larger regional infrastructure plan to incentivize sustainable transportation.

  • 4. Swan River Causeway

    Swan River Causeway’s development process has been intentionally structured to allow users to co-create the aesthetic expression alongside designers and Mainroads Western Australia. This is rooted in the recognition and acknowledgement of the site’s importance to Aboriginal people – and a genuine, good faith desire by all project value chain participants to respect the cultural heritage, values, and symbolism the Traditional Owners and land stewards.

    Dissing+Weitling’s role as mobility architects within the project team has been to take each visual concept and integrate it into something architecturally cohesive and structurally buildable.

    The symbolism of the snaking path, the wanna, and boomerang pylons, detailing on the bridge furniture, and views out into the riverway are all individually significant and collectively meaningful. Where the project design and engineering team has succeeded in ensuring Swan River Causeway’s buildability – the bridge is a striking success story for how local and indigenous stakeholders can be active participants in co-creating their own cultural heritage.

  • Causeway cam 05
    Visualization of Swan River Causeway Boomerang Pylon.

    The Swan River Causeway is infused with Aboriginal symbolism – allowing the visual impact of the entire infrastructure system to evoke a deep sense of place. The alignment of the bridge – with scurves snaking across Heirisson Island to connect the two bridges – represent the rainbow serpent, or Wagyl.

  • 5. Pylons as Cultural Heritage Drivers

    A key opportunity in mobility architecture is ability to integrate cultural symbolism into the aesthetic expression of a bridge. Pylons emerge as powerful design drivers – with potential for abstract or literal sculpting to reflect visual identity for local users. Like their role as gathering point for cables – pylons can serve as the unifying force for an entire design theme.

    Where engineering may view pylons as design parameters, architecture embraces them as design drivers. Together with clients, project stakeholders, and users – mobility architects can leverage the physicality of pylons and the centralizing role they play within the aesthetic expression of a bridge to ensure infrastructure developments are active contributors to the cultural heritage of the built environment.

  • The complete paper will be available soon.