The Art of Bridge Design: Identifying a design approach for well-integrated, integrally-designed and socially-valued bridges

  • Joris Smits TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment


It is hard to imagine a world without bridges. Bridges lie at the heart of our civilization bringing growth and prosperity to our society. It is by virtue of bridges that communities are able to physically connect to new people and to new places that were previously disconnected. However, bridges are more than mere functional assets. A well-designed bridge reflects mankind’s creativity and ingenuity.

The way that our bridges are commissioned, designed and procured is rapidly changing. Nowadays, a large number of experts from many different disciplines work on the design during different phases of the project. The segregation of knowledge into discipline-specific fields, and the fragmented approach to bridge procurement, have resulted in a general lack of cohesion in bridge design. The objective of this research is to identify a design approach, through all scales of the design, that leads to bridges that are well-integrated, that are integrally-designed and that are valued by society.

The methodology of this research is the reviewing of numerous projects from my own bridge design practice. By identifying design considerations on four levels, namely the level of the landscape, on the level of the bridge, on the level of the detail and on the level of the material, this research demonstrates how an overall approach to well-integrated, integrally designed and valued bridges can be achieved by addressing each of these scales of the design.

If the mutations in the field of bridge design that have occurred over the past 150 years have taught us one thing, it is that the field of bridge design has become far too complex to be embodied by one person, whether it be an engineer or an architect. The role that the master builder played up until the late renaissance, bringing together aesthetic design and building craft into one person, is nowadays fulfilled by a team of specialists. You could say that the integrated design team is the contemporary version of the renaissance master builder. The basis of the ideal team naturally consists of a lead architect and a chief engineer. Within this team, the architect should be the design integrator; he or she has the task of securing the equilibrium between Beauty, Utility and Solidity throughout every phase of the design process. This balancing act takes place at all scale levels and through all phases of the design.  


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Author Biography

Joris Smits, TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment

As an architect, my career has been strongly influenced by my civil engineering background. I studied at the Technical University in Delft where I combined the studies of Civil Engineering and Architecture. I graduated in both in 1994 and thus became an architect as well as a civil engineer. I believe that it is my understanding of structural design that has profoundly defined me as an architect.

In the field I have been widely recognized as an engineering architect due to the design of a wide range of structural works. With my projects I have won prizes all over the world. My designs are rational yet expressive. My fascination is to give shape to the forces at play. In this manner I have designed over three hundred of the finest bridges and buildings. Since 2012 I have combined my architect’s practice with a lectureship at Delft University of Technology, faculty of Architecture, Structural Design.

I see it as my mission to bridge the gap that so often exists between architects, engineers and clients. After all, wasn’t it Vitruvius who taught us that a structure can only be of truly lasting value if it respects the balance between aesthetics, structure and function? This adage is still very valid today and constitutes the crux of my professional work.

How to Cite
SMITS, Joris. The Art of Bridge Design. A+BE | Architecture and the Built Environment, [S.l.], n. 3, p. 1-212, mar. 2019. ISSN 2214-7233. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 30 nov. 2020. doi: