Light Rail Train Bridge
The Light Rail Train Bridge is located near the Eastern Gate to the old City of Jerusalem, considered as the “modern entrance” to the city.
In ancient times this road connected the old city of Jerusalem with the Tel Aviv Highway, Jaffo at the Mediterranean Sea, and Herzl Boulevard, one of the most important arteries of the new city of Jerusalem.
Calatrava designed this cable-stayed bridge with a single inclined pylon that creates a clear visual direction towards the city. The cables are arranged in a parabolic shape which develops three-dimensionally in space, thus amplifying the impressive visual impact unique for this bridge. Overall the strings and form of this structure suggest a giant harp-the harp of King David as a symbol of the holy city-inspiring city residents to call it the “Bridge of Strings.”
The Jerusalem light rail train bridge project started with the idea that we have to do a very light and very transparent bridge, which should span a major new plaza at the entry to Jerusalem. These were the elements I got from the client. Ehud Olmert, who was the Mayor of Jerusalem at that time, challenged me in this way. He said, “Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world.” So I had to make one of the most beautiful bridges.
Uri Shetrit, the city engineer, who is also an architect, was preoccupied with how to make this area more urban, how to make it more pleasant for pedestrians, because the traffic is enormous there. The bus station is not far away, and many of the cars arriving in Jerusalem have to pass through this intersection. We wanted to unify the area and give it character. So the bridge is a link for the tramway and for pedestrians, but it is also the excuse to create a major plaza, to give character and unity to this delicate place which is the entrance to Jerusalem.
My first drawings for the bridge were very abstract, and focused on reconciling the curved plan of the bridge with the elevation, and its articulation with the surroundings. I gave that a lot of importance. Also, because I wanted to make the bridge so transparent, and the mast so thin, the major impression of the bridge comes from the cables. In the end, the form of the bridge came to resemble a musical instrument, with the cables as the strings. The idea of the bridge as a harp seems to me to be very beautiful in this case. I thought the City of David deserves a bridge that looks like a harp, which was the instrument he played.
The S-shape of the bridge is a result of the technical requirements of the light rail system. Its geometry is precisely defined by the need of the tramway to go from Yaffo Street through the plaza and into Theodore Herzl Avenue. The curve and then the countercurve were dictated not only by the course of the tramway but also by the speed of the trains and the degree of curve they can pass through.
In a bridge, the formal composition and the structural solution come together. Most bridges today are very minimalist, because we have taken away the decorative elements that were used in bridges since ancient times. You have very few elements to work with. The most defining element-the one that belongs most to the physical nature of a bridge-is the statical system, how the bridge behaves. Also I think the reference to the site is very important; and the way the bridge touches the ground is fundamental. Finally, there is the way people move around and use the bridge to articulate the city. These are the basic issues I always look at. For this bridge in Jerusalem, the quality of life and the quality of the city-to be responsive to the place-is the most important thing.
Bridges are instruments of peace. They join places that were separated. They permit people to meet. They even are meeting points. They are done for the sake of progress and for the average citizen. They even have a religious dimension. The word religious comes from Latin, meaning “creating a link.” This particular understanding has a very deep meaning, especially in Jerusalem, which contains in its name the words shalom, salaam, peace. A bridge makes a lot of sense in a city like Jerusalem.