Liberal Arts Blog — Calatrava’s Three Bridges: Volantin, Alamillo, Beckett

John Muresianu
4 min readFeb 3, 2021

Liberal Arts Blog — Wednesday is the Joy of Science, Engineering, and Technology Day

Today’s Topic: Equilibrium (II) Calatrava’s Three Bridges: Volantin (Bilbao), Alamillo (Sevilla), Beckett (Dublin)

Bridges captivate perhaps more than any other structure. Whose spirits are not lifted by the first sighting of the Golden Gate or George Washington bridges? or the Brooklyn Bridge? London Bridge? the Pont Neuf in Paris? the Rialto in Venice, the Ponte Vecchio in Venice, or the Ponte Fabricius in Rome?

Today, three bridges I have not seen up close and personal, but whose unusual designs beautifully illustrate the all important concept of equilibrium. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.


1. The backward lean of the tower counter-balances the pull of the cable.

2. The structure is stable, although it does not appear so.

3. An even more striking example of Calatrava’s taste for the illusion of uncertainty and instability is his “Twisted Torso” Tower in Malmo, Sweden, see last link below.

NB: The bridge was built for the 1992 World’s Fair (Expo 92), in celebration of the 500th anniversary of the departure of Christopher Columbus from Sevilla in 1492 on his way west. The bridge above spans the Alfonso XIII canal which connects Sevilla to the Cartuja Peninsula where the Exposition took place. On the other side of the peninsula is the Guadalquivir River, “the only great navigable river in Spain.” Sevilla, the capital of Andalusia, is actually seventy two miles inland from the Atlantic port of Cadiz at the mouth of the Guadalquivir. Magellan as well as Columbus departed from Sevilla.


1. This bridge, if anything, looks even less stable than the Alamillo as the tower leans in the same direction as the cables that span it length, but this is made possible by the even more robust cables on the other side of it.

2. The intention was to create an image of a harp, the national symbol of Ireland, since the 13th century.

3. The bridge crosses the River Liffey from Guild Street and North Wall Quay in the Dockland area to Sir John Rogerson’s Quay on the south side.

NB: Samuel Beckett (1906–1989) was an Irish novelist and playwright best known for “Waiting for Godot” (1953). Calatrava actually designed another bridge over the River Liffey named after another writer: the James Joyce Bridge (2003).


1. The arch, like the towers of the previous two bridges, seems to be falling down, but the lean is offset by the twisted deck.

2. The lateral thrust of the arch is counter-balanced by a chord that connects the ends of the arch to each other. This is called a “tied arch” configuration.

3. To add to the illusion of instability the entire structure is placed on top of two cantilevered arms.

NB: Bilbao is the largest city in the Basque provinces of Spain (Paiz Basco, in Basque, Euzkadi). Bilbao is located 6 miles south of the Bay of Biscay and 75 miles from the French border. In Basque, the bridge is called “Zubizuri” or the “white bridge.” Like Pittsburgh, Bilbao is a former steel town that “reinvented itself after its economic collapse.” The icon of this urban transformation is the Bilbao Guggenheim. See the next to the last link.

Santiago Calatrava

Samuel Beckett Bridge

James Joyce Bridge

Alamillo Bridge





Bay of Biscay

Basque Country (autonomous community)

Pittsburgh visits its sister city Bilbao to learn about its transformation

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

Turning Torso


PDF with headlines — Google Drive


Please share the coolest thing you learned this week related to science, engineering, or technology. Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in your life related to science and engineering.

This is your chance to make someone else’s day. Or to cement in your mind something that you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply about something dear to your heart. Continuity is key to depth of thought.



John Muresianu

Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, art, and passing bits on of wisdom of a long lifetime.