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The Salginatobel Bridge on the connecting road from Schiers to Schuders is the only world monument in Switzerland and, from a technical point of view, one of the most important reinforced concrete arch bridges in the world.
The Salginatobel Bridge forms the core of the connecting road from Schiers to Schuders. With an elegant arch, it crosses the Salgina Gorge at a height of over 90 m. Possibilities for sightseeing on foot on the historic circular path (large fireplace with drinking water) are signposted from the village center of Schiers. With a 90-metre-wide arch, it leads over the Salginabach stream at a height of 90 metres.
The viewing platform located on an exposed rocky outcrop offers a unique view of the world-famous building. The circular path follows the route of the old Schuderser mule track and requires good footwear.
The honor came from America
In 1991, the largest American engineering association ASCE named this extraordinary bridge a "world monument". Today, a total of 45 buildings form the small circle of the most important engineering creations, including such well-known ones as the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the New York Statue of Liberty, the Inca city of Machu Picchu in Peru, the endless rice terraces in the northern Philippines, the Hagia Sophia Mosque in Istanbul, the Alaska Highway or the Panama Canal.
The beauty contest
Almost 10 years later, another award was made: The renowned British trade magazine "Bridge – design & engineering" asked thirty well-known designers and architects worldwide about the most beautiful bridge of the 20th century. The high ravine crossing between Schiers and Schuders took a clear lead ahead of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and numerous other famous bridges.
Pioneering work in concrete bridge constructionThe Salginatobel Bridge is the masterpiece of the great reinforced concrete pioneer Robert Maillart (1872–1940). The Swiss designer created innovative and groundbreaking buildings that made him one of the most important civil engineers of his time. Outstanding in the history of architecture are his bridge construction systems developed by him of the three-joint box girder and the stiffened bar arch.
Cheapest project – short construction time
The invitation to tender took place in the summer of 1928. Two months later, the cantonal building authority was in possession of 19 projects for a ravine crossing. They preferred the cheapest offer from Prader, although the unusually slim construction was not really trusted. This was the project of Robert Maillart, who had once again succeeded in finding the most economical bridge solution by using the then very expensive material reinforced concrete. The construction was awarded at a lump sum of CHF 135,000. Richard Coray's much-noticed teaching framework cost a further CHF 45,000. In the late summer of 1929 it was tied down by only 6 workers and set up in the steep ravine. The wood requirement amounted to around 700 m3 with a parts list of 1285 numbers and could be covered by community-owned forests. The concreting work took place in 1930 in the incredibly short time of only three months. All the concrete material was mixed by hand and fed with carts. The most delicate phase was the casting of the thin sheet plate, which had to be carried out absolutely symmetrically from both sides without interruption and was completed after 40 hours of painstaking work. In mid-August 1930, the scaffolding was lowered and the structure was opened to traffic.
During the construction period, one had no idea what attention this bridge structure would one day receive. The bold teaching framework already received much admiration, and locals and experts from home and abroad followed the concreting work with interest. All major newspapers in the country carried reports on the inauguration, whereby the new construction was consistently praised and described as exemplary. But the special feature of this bridge was gradually forgotten outside the expert circles – the seclusion in the wild Salginatobel and the fact that every bridge is ultimately a utility building contributed to this. On the other hand, the building quickly found its way into numerous specialist books and was soon recognized and studied at technical universities around the globe as an epochal engineering achievement. The delicate reinforced concrete bridge repeatedly appeared at art exhibitions, and its distinctive silhouette became a symbol of modern architecture.
Ingenious constructionIn the history of bridge construction, the Salginatobel Bridge has long been a milestone. Their revolutionary design has set new accents and influenced civil engineers in all parts of the world. The three-hinged arch structure forms a rigid box box from the quarter points to the apex: vault, side walls and roadway have melted together to form a slender unit. Conversely, huge recesses of the side walls taper the arch towards the supports. The visual effect is captivating – in a huge jump, the bridge sets against the perpendicular rock face. The undecorated clarity of the form, dissolved into thin plates and discs, inspires experts and laymen alike and looks timelessly modern. Never before has reinforced concrete been used more sparingly and elegantly.
Today, the Salginatobel Bridge is better known than ever. Every day, visitors walk the specially created "Salginatobel Bridge Historical Circular Trail", which largely follows the old Schuders mule track, and are inspired by the bold location of the world-famous building. Large information boards at the village entrances as well as panorama boards and signage in the village show the way to this bridge experience of a special kind.
Text: ©Andreas Kessler 2009
The Salginatobel Bridge is the centrepiece of the connecting road from Schiers to Schuders. With an elegant arch, it crosses the Salginato at a height of over 90 m. For sightseeing, you can drive by car from Schiers in the direction of Schuders directly to the bridge, or you can drive from Schiers into the Schraubachtobel to the Chalchofenhütte and from there you can walk to the bridge on the historic circular path. The circular path largely follows the route of the old Schuderser mule track and requires surefootedness and good footwear.
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