Saturday, August 25, 2012

Bridges and Tall Ships

By nature I’m a bit of a nosey parker. I like to know things. On the Enneagram I’m what is known as a Number 5 personality and the animal which represents this number is - yes, you’ve guessed it – the owl. Remember the wise old owl of nursery rhyme fame? “The more he saw the less he spoke, the less he spoke the more he heard” – that’s kind of like me. I’m still working on the ‘wise’ bit but overall I am a gatherer and hoarder of information.

I’m also a little bit lazy (which may explain why I like cats – unusual for an owl you would think!). You see, I’ve long wondered if the Samuel Beckett Bridge in Dublin lifts up to allow ships pass down the River Liffey. Since it was opened to pedestrians and road traffic in December 2009, I have admired the architecture of this stunning bridge which is named after the eminent Irish writer Samuel Beckett. Moreover, in the past year the bridge has been a frequent subject in my photography. Indeed, this spectacular construction rapidly has become an iconic landmark of our capital city. Yet it has taken me 3 years to find out anything much about it – all the more amazing when you consider that my place of work for the past year has been right beside the bridge! The truth is, I simply hadn’t bothered to go and find out. Until this week.

As I write this blog post, the Tall Ships Race 2012 is visiting Dublin and there is a right old carnival atmosphere about the place. Last week, while perusing some advance information about the festivities that would be taking place along the Dublin quays, I discovered that some of the visiting vessels were due to berth up-river from the Beckett Bridge. Aha! So the bridge must able to open. But how? Does it lift up? At the next opportunity I consulted YouTube to see if anyone had a video clip of this bridge doing its thing. Since you can find a clip of almost anything on YouTube, needless to say I found what I was looking for within seconds. Instantly, my question was answered – the bridge does not lift up – it swivels 90 degrees to open and close!

As if spurred on by this small yet, for me, pleasing discovery, I was destined to find out even more about this bridge as the week unfolded. The theme for my ‘52’ photography project this week is Architecture. Since the topic was announced 4 weeks ago, I decided that my first choice of subject would be the Beckett Bridge. Knowing that the quays would be lined with tall ships and thronged with people in the latter part of the week, I set out at lunchtime last Tuesday to take my shot (which you can see below). While posting my shot to Flickr earlier today I decided to find out a bit more about who had architected this marvellous work.

It is actually an Argentinian architect by the name of Santiago Calatrava. He has a string of notable and imaginative bridge and building designs to his name around the world. In particular, he has 5 bridges of the cantilever spar cable-stayed kind (there’s a term you don’t hear every day of the week!) of which the Samuel Beckett is one. However, what he has managed to achieve with the Beckett Bridge is to deliver a design which is reminiscent of a harp on its back (see photo at the top of this post)and that’s what makes this bridge unique. As you look towards Dublin city centre from the mouth of the Liffey you see a structure which is functional yet a striking symbol of our nation. It spans two districts of our city which were in need of rejuvenation, a lot of which was delivered during the fabled Celtic Tiger years. A few unfinished structures stand as a reminder that the Tiger years came to an abrupt end with the banking crisis of 2008. Thankfully the Samuel Beckett Bridge was sufficiently advanced to make it to completion.

Interestingly, this is Calatrava’s second bridge across the Liffey in Dublin. He also designed the James Joyce Bridge, constructed in 2003 at Blackhall Place further up the river. I wonder will he get to complete a hat-trick of bridges across the Liffey? Unlikely, one would think. Not much money around for such projects these days. But then money isn’t everything. As I ventured out last Friday lunchtime for a quick look at the visiting ships on the quays, it was great to see so many people – office workers, families, students, senior citizens - despite the wet weather, partaking in the Tall Ship festivities in the shadow of this great bridge. We certainly haven’t forgotten how to enjoy life. And that’s a good thing!

Thankfully it didn’t rain all the time, as you can see from this shot I took of the masts on the first of the tall ships to arrive in Dublin earlier this week. It’s the Guayas from Ecuador.

Click on the images in this post to view them in larger size.

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