Modern Marvels

Yesterday I walked on water, well across it.

Now that we live in Washington Heights the George Washington Bridge (GWB) feels like the backdrop of our lives.  From the rooftop deck on our building we have an amazing view of the bridge and the Hudson River below it.  Outdoor space, even shared or common, is a huge commodity in the city so the roof deck was certainly a significant selling point for us when we saw the building for the first time.  We joke that we no longer need to listen to the traffic report before heading upstate for the weekend because we can just go look to see how things are moving on the GWB.

Yesterday, when I decided to take a walk, it seemed natural that I would stroll the foot path on the bridge so I could take in this view even closer.  Well, that was kinda a bust.  The walk was fine, but peaceful it was not.  I mean clearly I knew this going into it since at least twice a week I am in one of the cars crossing the bridge in traffic that often feels a bit like a crazed video game. But jeez-louise, is it ever loud and exhaust-filled.  The idyllic view you see from our roof feels more like a stroll down I-87 when you get up close and personal.

To save you from a google search, the bridge is just shy of a mile long.  And while a peaceful afternoon stroll it is not, the engineering behind this modern marvel of construction is rather mind-boggling when you think about it.

Construction on the George Washington Bridge began in October 1927 as a project of the Port of New York Authority Its chief engineer was Othmar Ammann, with Cass Gilbert as architect.

Workers built the six-lane bridge in sections.  They carried the pieces to the construction site by rail, then hauled them into the river by boat, then hoisted them into place by crane. Though the bridge was gigantic, Ammann had found a way to make it look light and airy: in place of vertical trusses, he used horizontal plate girders in the roadway to keep the bridge steady.  Ammann used such strong steel that these plate girders could be relatively thin and as a result, the bridge deck was only 12 feet deep.  From a distance, it looked as flimsy as a magic carpet.  Meanwhile, thanks to Amman’s sophisticated suspension system, that magic carpet seemed to be floating: The bridge hung from cables made of steel wires–107,000 miles and 28,100 tons of steel wires, to be exact–that were much more delicate-looking than anything anyone had ever seen.[1]

The bridge, dedicated on October 24, 1931, was the longest main bridge span in the world at the time.


Anyone that has ever renovated anything in their home will be shocked to know construction was completed under budget and eight months ahead of schedule.  WHAT?  I somehow assumed the world would self combust if a construction project finished on time much less ahead of schedule.

So while the walk was nice, I think going forward I’ll enjoy the bridge from afar and keep my walks to strolls through nearby Riverside or Fort Tryon Parks.

854 Rooftop.jpg

Home Sweet Heights Roof Garden

[1] George Washington Bridge is Dedicated, History.com Staff, History.com, 2009.