Hong Kong is a financial center, an East/West mash-up, and one of the most densely populated places on earth. There′s no room for sprawl—there′s not even a mile between harbor and mountains—so when they build, they build toward the sky. More than 7,500 skyscrapers crowd into Hong Kong, including thirty-six of the world′s 100 tallest residential buildings, and some of the world′s great modern architecture.
One of the most recent and most celebrated additions to that incredible skyline isn′t a grand hotel or office building or condominium. It′s a bridge. The first thing you notice about the Stonecutters Bridge in Hong Kong is how gorgeous it is. In a city bejeweled with fancy skyscrapers and ringed with lush green peaks, this bridge holds its own—and yet offers the eye relief from the visual cacophony of the skyline. Two soaring towers—each the height of the Eiffel Tower—anchor steel cables that fan out elegantly across the harbor. At night, when the city′s skyscrapers glow with light, the bridge glows too, from a system of super-efficient, long-lasting LED lights set into the towers and the cross girders.
But Stonecutters Bridge isn′t just a beauty. It has brains. Crossing Hong Kong Harbor—to allow densely packed citizens better access to the airport—meant crossing one of the busiest container shipping ports in the world. That meant that the bridge had to stay out of the way of the ships. How do you do that?
Make it higher, of course. But then you′ve got another problem. Hong Kong is situated in Typhoon Alley, subject to gale-force winds, especially in the summer. And the higher the bridge, the more vulnerable it is to wind pressure. The design and build team from international engineering firm Arup found the solution wasn′t in trying to block the wind, but in channeling it. Here′s how they did it: they divided the bridge deck into two three-lane roads. The underside of each road is shaped a little like the wing of a plane: curved steel to catch and direct the wind to the open center. So the wind that hits the bridge is immediately funneled in, up, and away between the roads.
The bridge opened in late 2009 to critical and popular acclaim. The Institution of Structural Engineers just handed it a Structural Award for best in transportation—and then another, the Supreme Award, which goes to the overall winner from the competition′s twelve categories.
Supreme indeed. Hong Kong′s Stonecutters Bridge is only the second-longest cable-stayed bridge in the world, but superlative numbers don′t always tell the whole story. Someone′s going to manage to build an even longer cable-stayed bridge sometime—probably sometime soon—but I′m not sure when they′re going to top this thing for the sheer elegance of both its form and its function.