British artist Steve Messam has installed a bright red, weight-bearing arch bridge across a stream in the rural Lake District National Park of Cumbria, in UK, using nothing but 22,000 sheets of paper. Messam used no glue and no steel reinforcement. The only thing holding up the bridge is sheer compression. The crazy part is you can actually walk over the bridge without it collapsing.
The bridge may seem surreal, but is actually using the same basic principles of engineering that have been used to build short footbridges for thousands of years. “It relies on vernacular architectural principles as used in the drystone walls and the original pack-horse bridges, which have stood, in many cases, for more than a century," explains Messam.
The bridge is constructed from a series of "blocks" each comprising two reams of paper, or 1,000 sheets. First, an arched plywood form was placed between the two stone-filled cage support on either end, and the blocks of paper were stacked in position across the river. Wedges were hammered between each block to compact the structure, before removing the wooden former. The arch is precisely aligned to make sure the weight of the paper and any dog, human, or livestock standing on it is moved laterally down to the stone supports.
The bridge is not only weatherproof, it actually gets stronger when it’s wet, since paper absorbs water, expands and makes the arch even tighter.
The Paper Bridge is a temporary project commissioned by the Lakes Culture tourism organization. After its ten-day life span, the bridge will be dismantled and the paper returned to the manufacturer for recycling. Stones used will be redistributed around the area leaving no footprint of the bridge’s existence.
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