No glue. No cables. No steel reinforcements. The only thing keeping this bridge intact is, well, physics.
If you happened to be strolling across the Grisedale Valley—a ridiculously picturesque piece of land in Cumbria—over the past two weeks, you probably saw what looks like something out of a Monument Valley fever dream. A blindingly bright red bridge spanning a thin creek, made of nothing except thousands of sheets of paper. About 22,000 sheets, according to The Chronicle.
It’s called PaperBridge, and it’s the work of a UK artist named Steve Messam, who was commissioned by the area’s culture council to install it this spring.
The bridge, surreal though it seems, is actually using the same basic principles of engineering that have been used to build short footbridges for thousands of years.
They key to the whole structure are the wire cages full of stones. The arch is precisely aligned to make sure the weight of the paper—and any dog, human, or livestock standing on it—is moved down into the stone cages. “It relies on vernacular architectural principles as used in drystone walls and the original pack-horse bridges that dot the Lake District,” says Messam on his blog.
After Dezeen posted about Messam’s piece detailing how the bridge actually gets stronger in the rain—since paper absorbs water, expands, and makes the arch ever tighter—I reached out to Messam. He was kind enough to send along photos of the construction process, which is just as interesting as the finished piece.
According to Messam, it took over three years to finalize the design and construction of the bridge. Here’s the plywood frame that was used to align the sheets of paper during the build-out:
The paper was stacked from each stone support upwards, meeting in the middle.
As you can see, the finished product—which will be removed and recycled after today—is more than strong enough to support its own weight. And the weight of at least a couple rubber booted-humans, dogs, and children, too.
All images © Steve Messam 2015, used with permission.
Contact the author at kelsey@Gizmodo.com.