I was excited to learn that my friend Howie and his wife were visiting Charleston, South Carolina. Not for the golf, not for the historic old South charm, although these are good reasons to visit. I was most excited for them because they would get to see the Ravenel Bridge. The bridge is one of the most beautiful structures in North America.
The Ravenel bridge is a long span cable-stayed bridge crossing the Cooper River (it’s also referred to as the Cooper River Bridge). The main span is elegantly slender and appears to float effortlessly across the water. Detailing of the pylons and supports is simple and no-nonsense- this is a “form follows function” bridge that doesn’t suffer from leaning arches, tilted towers, or other design features intended to be startling if not very efficient. Bridge lighting is also simple, functional, and does a good job of highlighting the structural features.The Ravenel Bridge is even more beautiful when you consider what was there before. The new bridge replaces two historic but clunky cantilever truss spans. The old cantilever bridges have since been demolished after the replacement bridge opened in 2005.
The Ravenel Bridge has become an infrastructure icon for the Charleston area. It’s interesting to think that such a dominant structure could probably not be built on land. It is unlikely that an iconic skyscraper could be built in Charleston. The environmental and public review would likely veto anything so drastically out of keeping with the overall tenor of the city. But the bridge builders, fortunately, were not restricted in this way, and they designed a structure that is both functional and spectacular.