After centuries of stone arches, viaducts, covered crossings, and concrete-and-steel masterpieces, it may seem like every potential bridge has been built.
But increasing traffic and urbanization, as well as new engineering advances, have given bridge-builders new and more impressive gulfs to traverse. Since the beginning of the new century, a number of record-breaking structures have opened, traversing some of the most difficult waterways, valleys, and gorges in the world.
Here are just some of these amazing feats of design, which manage to look effortless while achieving engineering excellence.
Millau Viaduct (Millau, France: 8,070 feet long)
An award-winning project designed by Foster + Partners, this svelte, cable-stayed crossing boasts numerous superlatives: It’s the highest structure in France, has the highest road bridge in Europe, and spans 8,070 feet across two high plateaus overlooking the River Tarn.
Practically, it has offered a quicker route from Paris to Barcelona since opening in 2001. Aesthetically, it’s a work of art, as well as an engineering marvel.
Rio-Antirrio Bridge (Gulf of Corinth, Greece: 9,450 feet long)
Officially called the Charilaos Trikoupis Bridge, after the 19th-century Greek leader who initially proposed the crossing, this connection between the mainland and Peloponnese peninsula is one of the world’s longest multi-span, fully suspended bridges.
Lead architect Berdj Mikaelian headed up a French-Greek team that created what’s widely considered a masterpiece of design and engineering. Turns out, Trikoupis’s vision runs up against some serious geographic challenges: namely, seismic activity, a deep seabed, and the Gulf of Corinth’s unhelpful expansion (30 millimeters, or just over an inch, annually).
Under each of the bridge’s four piers, engineers had to sink hundreds of steel pipes deep into beds of gravel, which help absorb seismic shock.
Gateshead Millennium Bridge (Gateshead and Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom: 413 feet long)
While the Rio-Antirrio shifts, the Gateshead actually tilts. This singular bridge for pedestrians and cyclists has been given the apt nickname, the Blinking Eye Bridge, due to its ability to literally tilt to allow boats underneath. Six hydraulic rams shift the entire structure 40 degrees in roughly five minutes.
When the structure first opened in 2001, the first to walk across were given commemorative medals. Designed by architect WilkinsonEyre and structural engineer Gifford, the span was assembled with the help of the Asian Hercules II floating crane. Fans can check the tilt time site maintained by the local council.
Lupu Bridge (Shanghai, China: 2,461 feet long)
The second-longest steel arch bridge in the world, this soaring span over the Huangpu River derives its name from the two neighborhoods it connects in Beijing, the Luwan and Huangpu districts. The structure required 38,580 tons of steel.
Helix Bridge (Marina Bay, Singapore: 918 feet long)
Clearly riffing off the shape and form of DNA—the letters C, G, A, and T are lit up at night, representing the four bases of the molecule—this beautiful pedestrian bridge was also inspired by the climate.
To provide shade and shelter from the sun in this tropical city, the design consortium behind the span, Cox Architecture, Arup, and Architects 61, came up with the spiraling helix system. Spanning a busy area in the center of Singapore, the bridge offers viewing pods to see the city’s skyline, and lights up at night with thousands of LED lights.
Octavio Frias De Oliveira Bridge (São Paulo, Brazil: 5,200 feet long)
Named after a Brazilian publishing magnate, this striking, criss-crossed cable-stayed structure is the only one in the world to have two curved tracks supported by the same concrete mast.
The unique facade lends itself to seasonal decoration, as the cables descending from the large “X” are lit up like a Christmas tree during the holidays.
Sidu River Bridge (Yesanguan, China: 4,009 feet long)
If you’re scared of heights, don’t look down. This massive suspension bridge across the mountainous Sidu River valley stands so tall above the valley below, this first cable strung for the structure, known as the pilot cable, was launched via a rocket.
Considered the highest bridge in the world—looming 1,600 feet above the canyon floor below—the grand crossing shows just how far China will go to expand its highway system.