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STEWARDSHIP: Environment & Energy | October 20, 1989



An Unpublished Letter to Los Angeles Times

With backgrounds in both science and art, and a fondness for history, I have a special place in my heart for architecture...

I'm no architect or engineer, but for years I've wondered if the design of modern freeway supports is the best it can be -- a concern made acute by the horrible Highway 880 collapse in the Bay Area quake.

Freeways are typically supported by a "post-and-lintel" design (upright columns holding horizontal crossbeams) -- the simplest method of construction, as in the Egyptians' magnificent temple at Karnak or the Greek's most elegant temple, the Parthenon.

As an advancement, the "well rounded" civilization of the Mesopotamians invented not only the wheel but also the arch -- which better supports overhead structures and, thus, even opens-up more space beneath. This superior design was later incorporated into long-span Roman aqueducts and, with exterior flying buttresses, into towering Gothic cathedrals, many of which -- although constructed of unreinforced masonry or concrete and subjected to countless earthquakes over the millennia -- still stand today.

Would arches -- running crosswise under roadways and lengthwise alongside roadways -- give added support to existing freeway overpasses and whatever double-decked highways that might in the future be necessary (as high real-estate prices and deep government deficits prohibit the purchase of additional rights-of-way for our ever-increasing traffic)? Certainly, the graceful lines of arches would do nothing but add to the aesthetic beauty of our omnipresent freeway system.

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