This Century Old Bridge Canal Has Something to Say About Being Green


Photo: equinoxefr under a Creative Commons license.

Being something of a history buff as well as TreeHugger writer, a recent visit to the Briare Bridge Canal in France's Loire River Valley caught my attention. The structure itself is remarkable: a 662 meter (2,172 ft), water-filled causeway, it allows boats to cross 11 meters over the Loire quickly and safely, no matter the state of the river below. Nothing markets the canal, built of steel and stone, as especially green, but it has a surprising amount to tell us about today's sustainability movement.


Photo: Michel Claire, Wikimedia, CC

In an earlier post about the French Citadel of Besançon, I pointed out how structures that predate the term "green" can be great examples of what sustainable design should look like: the Citadel has been standing for three centuries; it was built to work with the natural landscape, and has been used for a variety of purposes since its construction.

Briare's Bridge Canal is certainly built to last: opened in 1896 (and built in just two years), it it still sending boats over the Loire, though today's traffic is more touristic than commercial (there's that finding new uses theme). Its appearance is striking, and not just for its uniqueness. While it might be a touch grandiose (it was the 19th century, after all), it is still functional and beautiful.


Photo: Alex Davies

The canal's relationship with the landscape is more complicated: it gives man reign over the natural courses of the local rivers; the bridge canal is part of a longer canal linking the Rhone and Seine Rivers. But it has no serious impact on the flow of the Loire, and it sure beats building a dam or paving a highway.

In Briare: un canal, des émaux, a book on the city and the canal, Jean-Yves Montague writes that the end of the 19th century "was characterized by a political will for great works, remarkable for their technological audacity." Today's sustainability movement has produced a lot of remarkable design and architecture, but if it's going to avoid the pitfall of greenwashing and keep going strong, it should remember to take the occasional lesson from the past.

More architectural lessons from the past:
What Can This 300 Year Old French Fortress Tell Us About Green Architecture?
Steve Mouzon on Learning from Old Buildings
New Lessons From Old Buildings
More remarkable bridges:
Living Bridges in India Have Grown for 500 Years (Pics)
Bridge In Korea To Include Museums, Parks and Vertical Gardens
Beautiful Chinese Pedestrian Bridge

Related Content on