Bridges: Functional Art at Its Finest



It’s beautiful, but is it art? Even though it’s a bridge tower, we say yes. This is one of the towers from the Ravenel Bridge on the Cooper River in Charleston, South Carolina.

It’s called a “cable-stayed” bridge because the trafficway is supported by cables which hang from towers. The cables transfer the weight to the towers, which transfer the weight to the ground. These sculpture-like bridges are scattered throughout the US and around the globe. In addition to moving people and vehicles across water, they’re appealing to look at, and fun to cross.

Ravenel Bridge in Charleston, South Carolina

But moving traffic isn’t the only use for these impressive spans. On a pan-flat coast they’re usually the tallest structure around, and there’s no better place to get a stunning view of Charleston, the Cooper River, and Atlantic Ocean in the distance. Community-minded designers included a dedicated pedestrian path up this man-made mountain which gives flatland cyclists and joggers the perfect place for hill-training. And each year 30,000 to 40,000 runners test their mettle on the Ravenel Bridge Run.

Just down the coast is another functional beauty: the Sidney Lanier Bridge in Brunswick, Georgia. Massive car-hauler ships sailing up the Brunswick River need lots of clearance, so not surprisingly, this is the tallest bridge in the state.


From the simple, elegant design of these bridges, you’d expect them to be a modern concept. But in fact, the first cable-stayed bridge was designed in the 16th Century by the bishop and polymath Fausto Veranzio. This bridge and his many other inventions earned him the nickname “The Leonardo da Vinci of Croatia.”

Sunshine Skyway Bridge
Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa, Florida

In 1988 the National Endowment for The Arts awarded the prestigious Presidential Design Award to a similar cable-stayed bridge, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, outside Tampa, Florida. So obviously, we’re not the only ones who think these attractive bridges are functional art at its finest.

Happy Trails,
James & Terri

The Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in Dallas, Texas
The Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in Dallas, Texas

Photo Credits:
3. LordTroy via Wikimedia Commons
5. Mike Raybourne via Wikimedia Commons
7. Duve via Wikimedia Commons
8. Sam via Wikimedia Commons
12. Courtesy
13. Gus Rios via Wikimedia Commons


We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

22 thoughts

  1. these are wonderful – and that Dallas Hunt Hill bridge must be amazing to drive across

    all of them actually – and nice to cross such artsy bridges…
    never saw the Georgia one – and I like the birds in the S. Korea shot. – also very interesting to learn the designs date back to
    16th Century …
    wonderful art post.

    1. Thanks Yvette. Is that Dallas bridge not fabulous? It doesn’t look like it could stand, let alone carry traffic. We’ve seen cable-stayed bridges in lots of locations, and they’re all a pleasure to look at. The bridge in Brunswick, GA is impressive because its soooo high. From the top, there’s a great view of the tidal marshes, islands, and the Atlantic Ocean.

      1. oh how fun that you get to travel and see all these cool bridges… and fun that you share them on your resource blog….
        have a nice week

    1. Thanks Peggy. I was always pleased and impressed that government officials added a dedicated pedestrian lane to this bridge. To spend this amount of public money and not make it useful and accessible to as many people as possible is ridiculous. ~James

  2. Love these cable-stayed bridges, and thanks for that term. We’ve passed over several, and every time I think I’m going to get that great photo . . . this time. But usually, there’s glare from the windows, or I’m not quick enough or something. These photos are all fabulous and show off the bridges for the works of art they really are.

    1. Rusha, the next time you’re down Charleston way, go see the Ravenel Bridge. There’s a parking lot on the Charleston side at the base of the bridge. It’s a pretty good walk up to the top, but the views when you get there are worth it. It’s a dedicated path which is separated from the traffic by a wall. It will give you a chance to walk off a few of those praline calories. 🙂 ~James

    1. Thanks Virginia. It’s good to hear from you. Isn’t that an absolutely beautiful bridge! Thank goodness for all the computer power necessary to complete all the calculations to pull that bridge off. ~James

    1. Carol, I just googled the Rotterdam bridge and you’re right, it is beautiful. I’ve seen a few of these one-sided types and they’re even more dramatic that the center spans. There’s a smaller, less grandiose version of this type of bridge in Dubrovnik, which was a real surprise for me. I saw it by accident when I took the wrong bus. 🙂 ~James

    1. Allison, thanks for dropping by the blog and for reblogging our post. I suspect that most people driving over these bridges don’t think about the art involved, but it certainly wasn’t lost on me. ~James

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