How To: Build a Suspension Bridge –– For the Love of Engineering!


When I was in my mid-twenties, and my daughters were teeny-tiny (pre-Curious Jane!), I received my Masters in Industrial Design at Pratt, right here in Brooklyn. Graphic design had been a strong part of my undergraduate education, but I wanted to work with materials and compositions in three dimensions, rather than just two. I wanted to work with my hands! Industrial design, simply put, means designing objects for mass production. It requires good knowledge of construction techniques, material use and production processes, and it's an off-shoot of engineering. 

The kingpin of the industrial design process is the *prototype.* And a prototype certainly does not have to be fancy; even the most complicated projects can start with basic paper-and-tape constructions. My mantra with all our Curious Janes – let your hands do the thinking!

Girls of any age can be designers and engineers with even simple materials: paper, scissors, string and tape. Scrounge around in the kitchen drawer, craft box and recycling bin. Use what you have at your fingertips. Start cutting, taping, tying, building, creating, suspending and constructing! It's as simple as gathering some materials about you and just making.

With a couple kitchen chairs, cardboard and yarn – you can build a suspension bridge. Try it!

How it works –
A suspension bridge is a kind of bridge where the deck (this is the road, ours is cardboard) is hung below suspension cables (your yarn or twine). These long suspension cables are anchored by towers (here, the chairs!) on either end of the bridge. Smaller vertical cables are hung from the long cables and these hold the deck up.

A few bits about the Brooklyn Bridge –
We think of the Brooklyn Bridge as a suspension bridge, but it is actually a hybrid: a combination of a cable-stayed bridge and a suspension bridge. When it was built, it was an engineering feat!
It was completed in 1883, well over a hundred years ago, and it was then the longest suspension bridge in the world. It is still used by millions of people, but now the longest one is in Japan!
When it opened, the bridge charged a toll depending on the traveler...
It cost a penny to cross by foot, 5 cents for a horse and rider and 10 cents for a horse and wagon. Farm animals cost 2 to 5 cents, depending on the kind. Now it is free for everyone!