When we mend relationships with people, we often say we’re ‘building bridges’. The reason for this is clear – bridges provide physical connections that bring communities and individuals together. They have the potential to transform the cultural, political and economic well being of an area, encouraging the free flow (notwithstanding the occasional toll) of people, ideas and trade.
But beyond their measurable, everyday use, bridges are also potent symbols – a fact the organisers of the Hormuz Bridge architecture competition are keenly aware of. In fact the competition, which forms part of the Gulf Architecture Biennial, is all about ideas rather than actually building something; whatever the entries are like, unsurprisingly there are no plans to construct a bridge across the Straits of Hormuz.
“We are interested in the illusion of the bridge, and all the landscapes that can be created through this illusion,” explains competition organiser Blanca Lopez Serentill. “Speculation and design fiction are welcome. It is not our aim to discuss the necessity to build it.”
The competition seeks proposals for a bridge or other structure that spans the sea between Iran on one side and Oman on the other. Just the suggestion of creating a physical connection across a strait through which around 20 per cent of the world’s petroleum passes, and which has such strategic importance globally, is charged with symbolic meaning. That, of course, is all part of the thinking behind the competition.
“We believe that symbols speak powerfully to us, simultaneously addressing our intellect and emotions,” says Lopez Serentill. “Symbols have accompanied the development of civilization since its beginnings. The possibility of a Hormuz Bridge allows us to visualize and think about possible futures.”
The world’s great bridges have, in their different ways, transformed the landscapes they inhabit. Completed in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge connected Manhattan and Brooklyn and led to the rapid growth of both neighbourhoods, while also becoming a symbol of New York’s economic and cultural muscle. More recently, the staggeringly beautiful Millau Viaduct in Tran Valley, France – the world’s highest vehicular bridge – was built to ease major traffic congestion during the summer months. And while the Peace Bridge across the River Foyle in Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland, is a small footbridge, it is a huge gesture. Opened in 2011, it provides a link between the divided Catholic and Protestant communities in the city, suggesting a future built on living together rather than apart.