The design of infrastructure normally obeys the internal logics of efficiency, resistance, and economy that, barring small nuances, tend to be the same for any requirement and any place. As technology advances, the level of permeability and adjustment of infrastructure to specific local conditions is reduced: the more efficient, the more global the infrastructure. Valuing heritage (in this case, landscape) obeys an opposite set of rules to the construction of infrastructure. It is about taking root and tuning in to the specific and less tangible conditions of the place, perhaps even ignoring and dispensing with the criteria of efficiency and economy.
Is there space for coherently operating between these two tensioned logics? This is Carrilho da Graça’s battle in Covilhã, Portugal. How can a bridge—the very definition of infrastructure— become a contribution to the landscape without sacrificing efficiency? The commission came about from an ordinary problem, a basic necessity (connecting two neighborhoods) that acquired technical complexity due to the specific conditions of the topography (a mountainous city with a difficult terrain). At first glance, it appeared to be nothing other than an engineering problem. However, the background for this operation is a context with fragmented urban growth, which has generated a disconnect between center and periphery on the one hand and city and landscape on the other, ultimately threatening the very identity of the place.
In Carrilho da Graça’s response, the design process does not exclusively obey the laws of engineering, though they are not contradicted or ignored. At a certain point, he branches out from the purely linear process of engineering, taking a step towards total formal abstraction and even metaphysics. Setting out from a “mundane” problem, he refines the proposal to a point where it takes on an intangible dimension, achieving a poetic quality. He turns an ordinary act into a permanent connection with the landscape, strengthening the identity of the place.