Millau Viaduct by Foster & Partners

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Twenty-First Century icons: we're still on holiday, so here's another chapter from Marcus' book, Twenty-First Century Design.

Millau Bridge
Date 2004
Place Tarn Valley, France
Architect Foster & Partners

Opened in December 2004 after just four years of construction, this bridge was instantly acclaimed as a triumph of architecture and engineering.

The monumental structure – 2.46 km (1.5 miles) long and taller than the Eiffel Tower – strides across the beautiful Tarn Valley in central France. However, the elegance of its design means it enhances, rather than damages, the natural landscape.

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The bridge was built to relieve traffic in the picturesque town of Millau, a notorious bottleneck on a major route between northern France and the Mediterranean coast.

An architectural competition was held in 1993 and, while most entrants proposed ways of bridging the narrow River Tarn at the base of the valley, Foster & Partners suggested bridging the entire valley with a single, cable-stayed viaduct slung between the high plateaux on either side.

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Foster’s winning proposal features seven equally spaced concrete masts, the tallest of which is 245 m (804 ft) high. These split into two when they pass through the road deck, creating a needle-like eye that flexes to accommodate expansion and contraction of the deck.

The masts are profiled to appear as slim as possible when viewed from the side, reducing the bridge’s impact on its surroundings. The concrete deck is suspended on steel cables 90 m (295 ft) below the mast tops, making it the highest road bridge in the world. The deck traces a shallow curve as it crosses the valley, allowing motorists to better appreciate the scale of the bridge as they drive across.

The project has been held up as an exemplar of how architects can work alongside engineers to produce more sensitive designs for major infrastructure projects.

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Unusually, the client (the Department of Transport and Public Works of France) insisted that engineering firms team up with architects to enter the design competition. Foster & Partners worked on the project alongside French engineering firm Eiffage, named after Gustav Eiffel who designed the Eiffel Tower.

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Taken from Twenty-First Century Design by Marcus Fairs, published by Carlton Books

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Buy this book at the Dezeenbooks store
(in association with amazon.co.uk)

  • http://yahoo.com shawn

    i like this brige alot ive had the pleasude of being on it 10 times its the gr8est

  • manoj

    this is d gr8 example of civil engineering…i wud like to congratulate the whole team which has put their heart and soul to complete a arcitecture on which the human being can proud. This is my dream to drive a vehicle over it…

  • Shoaib Cheema

    I have been there few times, on and under the bridge. this is unbeleiveably true. its great great great to see it but really very scary when u are under the bridge. looks like a gigantic thing is upon u and can swallow u any time.
    shame that u cant take pictures when u are on the bridge.

  • http://einbildung.blogspot.com guillem

    as a civil engineer I do not understand why always in media bridges are made by architects? foster and partners only design the surface of this bridge, few % of the whole project and works.

    • Ronald

      @guillem It's safe to say that most of the people reading this blog will not be privy to the kind of work it takes for the bridge to stand and are rather looking at the design. Hence the work being accredited to Foster and P, who no doubt greatly influenced the appearance of the bridge.