The world’s first invisible bridges?
A series of bridges being erected in China’s Zhangjiajie National Forest Park are set to provide unparalleled views of the region’s stunning quartzite landscape with the aim of blending harmoniously into their surroundings
What better way to achieve this than by designing them to be near invisible to the naked eye? From the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to the Akashi Kaikyō Bridge in Kobe, Japan, beautifully designed bridges are more than a means of crossing a river or a valley, and often become tourist attractions in their own right. Not so for new bridges in China’s Zhiangjiajie National Forest Park, which are unlikely to be immediately obvious in many holiday snaps.
The Paris-based architecture firm building the bridges, Martin Duplantier Architectes, explains the aesthetic: “The concept developed is that of illusionist development. Stealthy. Geometric. Contrasting with a complex landscape, the footbridges are of pure geometric shapes, which seem to have been placed delicately.”
One of the near-invisible bridges is an elliptical disk. An off-centred hole allowing tourists to view the park between the two rock faces. The hole has a strong stainless steel net, allowing visitors brave enough to try to lie across it and look straight down into the void. The architect firm’s founder, Martin Duplantier, says: “It’s all about the pure geometric shapes enhancing the beauty of the natural landscape.”
The Duplantier footbridges are made of stainless steel, but each differs in shape and purpose. Another ‘invisible’ bridge is a rectangular span linking two quartzite sandstone towers. As well as its stainless-steel structure, this bridge has thin black stones and wood set irregularly across its span. This irregular path is to give visitors the feeling of taking a winding path in the mountains.
The black stone also plays a key part in what Duplantier calls the “water mirror”. Every seven minutes, spray nozzles create a small cloud of moisture that settles across the black stones, eventually covering them to a depth of two centimetres. It is this that reflects the landscape and gives the sense of near invisibility.
Duplantier expects it to take two years to build the complete route of bridges and pavilions. He says: “[We use steel] because it mirrors nature and because it is the most compact way of building [strong] cables, as the bridges are set on a cable structure.”
The three pavilions connected by the bridges will also use stainless steel for the structure and black stone for flooring. The pavilions have three separate levels, an upstairs with a 360-degree terrace-panorama, a café beneath and, below that, what is called a VIP guesthouse – also known as the royal guesthouse. Here, special visitors can enjoy a night in the park.
Duplantier sees the bridges and pavilions as “staging the baroque landscape of nature, framing it properly”, and helping to develop tourism in this less-travelled part of China. He sees the bridges enduring for an age, just like other famous world structures. “In a timeless way because the project tries to be both pure and elegant.”