By Sal Maccarone
The word utilitarian refers to something that is useful, or serves a function. Utilitarian art is something that has function as its main priority, but is at the same time aesthetically pleasing. Like many other artists, I like to think of my own work as utilitarian art. The fact is, many important architectural wonders can be considered as utilitarian art; sometimes transcending generations!
Our own Golden Gate Bridge is one of these iconic structures. As the most photographed bridge in the world, it has been serving the San Francisco Bay Area since 1937. The distinctive Art Deco style, and vermilion orange color are what help to make it so recognizable. Thought to be impossible to build, it is now considered as one of the seven wonders of the modern world.
While actual construction began in January of 1933, the concept of a bridge that would span the mile wide Golden Gate Strait began many years before. Joseph Strauss, who would ultimately become chief engineer of the project, submitted his first design in 1921. During the twelve years that followed, engineering techniques advanced enough that building the bridge became a reality. After many design revisions Mr. Strauss ultimately decided upon the timeless, and graceful suspension bridge that ultimately opened on May 27, 1937.
The Art Deco style began to emerge worldwide around the same time as the Golden Gate Bridge was being considered. It is only fitting that the bridge now stands as testament to this symmetrically balanced art form. At the time, Art Deco was a symbol of modern aviation, and the machine age. Automobiles, and even bicycles were taking on new shapes. Streamline was the look of the day, and the Art Deco movement was the cause. Art Deco architecture represented the modernization of the world! The style flourished in large cities, and small towns throughout America during the 1920’s and 30’s. The Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite with its many Art Deco elements was designed, and built during this time.
In spite of all the technical and design hurdles, work progressed steadily, and the bridge was finished ahead of schedule. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was so proud of the achievement that he officially opened the bridge for the first time by telegraph from the White House. On that day, he announced to the world that, “The Bridge that could never be built is now open for business”.
Some interesting facts about the Golden Gate Bridge:
The Bridge is almost 2 miles long with a 4,200 foot span between the two 750 foot high Art Deco towers. It was the longest suspension bridge in the world until 1964, and the tallest bridge in the world until 1993.
The bridge was originally scheduled to be painted black with yellow stripes. When the steel arrived on site, it was pre-primed with an orange color. Miraculously, designer Irving Morrow decided that the orange color would offer better visibility in the fog, and at the same time compliment the surroundings.
During a 50th anniversary bridge walk celebration in 1987, 325,000 people crowded onto the bridge and made it sag more than seven feet. For a few short hours the iconic arch was flattened!
The two-billionth car crossed the bridge August 11th of 2002. An average of 152,000 cars cross the bridge each day.
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