At least six times a day, I cross a white pedestrian footbridge near the boat. As a frequent user of the structure, I only evaluated the bridge in a utilitarian light, as a tool facilitating travel from one side of Oosterdok to the other. Aesthetically speaking, there are more interesting bridges in a city known for its inventiveness in design, and, thus far, I have encountered bridges that revolve nearly 360-degrees and one particular structure outside MuziekGebouw that resembles a dinosaur’s ribcage. To some readers, the subject of this review may pale in comparison, but my intent is not to find the most technologically advanced or structurally complex bridge. Instead, by casting an aesthetic eye to a structure with no particular significance, this review highlights the architectural marvels that even the most common footbridge in Amsterdam can possess.
The artful use of lines in the Oosterdok bridge gives the structure a contrasting sense of fluidity and rigidity. The bridge itself consists of two matching structures connected by a center platform. Typically, bridges connect linearly in order to minimize travel distance, but the Oosterdok bridge connects at an apex so that an aerial view would show a slight dip where the two halves meet. The slight bend defies the traditional conception of a straight, utilitarian bridge and also challenges the idea that a bridge’s arch must be perpendicular to the plane of the water. Parallel to the water’s plane, the curve gives the impression of a bridge that flows with the water. As a whole, every slope and curve mimics the fluidity of the waterscape. Two arches rise to a low apex before gently sloping downward, and a gradual incline brings the bridge to its peak elevation. These smooth and subtle changes in elevation complement the bridge’s watery surroundings.
By contrast, straight and rigid aspects of the design attempt to distance the bridge from its watery setting. Thick metal beams create towering triangles that ultimately form the bridge’s skeleton. A shape historically associated with strength and stability, the triangles themselves have a commanding quality, and the thickness of the trusses intensifies the image of the bridge as a strong, unwavering structure rising above the surrounding waterscape. The metal triangles support the bridge’s arches and raise them above from the water, and, at the same time, the narrowing triangles create the illusion that the trusses are reaching up and away from the water. The upward-facing tips of the triangles draw the viewer’s gaze away from the water, and the sharp angles give the structure an edginess that contrasts with the smoothness and lightness of water.
Despite the fact that certain structural qualities emphasize the rigidity of the bridge, the general tendency of the design tends toward visual fluidity. While the metal triangles extend away from the water, the curves of the arches ultimately trap the triangles and prevent the tips from reaching further into the sky. The bridge’s arches metaphorically “round out the edges” of the structure and mitigate the sharpness of the trusses. During the evening, a row of lights also light up underneath the top arch, and casts shadows on the trusses. From afar, the light emanating from the bridge softens the structure’s angles, and the trusses themselves look less rigid when the light dances across the beams. When viewing the bridge at night, one notices that the light and shadows create an “alternating effect” in which every other beam appears to glow. By walking on a dock that parallels the bridge, one observes that the “alternating effect” actually creates an illusion that the rigid beams are in flux and shifting in some way, almost like the way the water ripples under moonlight.
While there might be more fascinating bridges in the city, the constant struggle between the fluidity and rigidity of the Oosterdok bridge creates an engaging visual experience for any viewer.