Lesson from the Sydney Harbor Bridge: The Relationship Between Structure and Function

I was in Sydney earlier this month. When I visited in August, I found two old friends who live in Sydney, and we had a delightful reunion over dinner. They offered to host me at their house on my next visit. I took them up on it this time around. On our first day touring around, we went to the Sydney Harbor Bridge and took the tour up the pylon on the south side where there is a bridge museum.

harborbridgeThe museum did a great job depicting the environment of the area in the early 1900’s that led to the bridge’s construction from 1928 – 1932. It also explained the construction process. What became clear to me in going through the exhibit was the separation of the structural components of the bridge and the functional components of the bridge.

The bridge was built to serve one function – to go over the water to get from one side of the harbor to the other. That is possible because of the road (or platform) – the functional component of the bridge that is driven on, walked on, and railroad tracks are laid on.

Then there are structural components to the bridge. The arc being the most prominent. You don’t use the steel arc to get from one side to the other. However, the surface that is traversed would not be able to support the weight of the traffic on it without the arc.

bridgephasesYou can see the relationship clearly between these two components – the functional traversal surface and the structural arc by looking at the series of drawings here which showed the order and sequence of the bridge construction.

You can see the structural component was built first – the arc. Without the arc, nothing else of the bridge would be possible. The roadway was then hung from the arch, to allow for the bridge’s function of getting people to the other side.

It has me thinking about the relationship between structure and function – in physical manifestations, but more in organizational systems and even marketplace systems (multiple organizations and individuals exchanging goods, services, and ideas).

Questions to provoke thought: What is the function of the different systems you interact in and with? What are the structural components? What is the relationship between them?

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