What can one make with 20,000 sheets of paper? Well, a sturdy footbridge, capable of holding the weight of up to 60 sheep, apparently. UK-based artist and designer, Steve Messam, has constructed a wonderfully innovative weight-bearing arch with nothing but several reams of brightly-colored paper. Aptly called the PaperBridge, the self-supporting structure was built over a small stream, running through the Lake District National Park in the northwestern part of England.
Commissioned by the Cumbria-based Lakes Culture tourism, the bridge is part of a temporary project, to further the Lake District’s efforts to be named a UNESCO World Heritage site. The design features a series of connected blocks, each of which in turn contains two reams (1000 sheets) of paper. What makes it all the more unique is the fact that the structure has been built without the use of glue or any sort of steel reinforcement. The entire setup is weighed down by means of two stone-filled gabions, situated on either end of the bridge. Speaking about his creation, Messam said:
The bridge draws on the long and important history of the way the Lake District landscape has influenced artists, writers and thinkers and shaped the way we look at and understand landscape in the west. As an installation it creates a focal point within the landscape and a reference point to understand the color, shape and scale of the surrounding environment.
To construct the PaperBridge, Messam had to first erect a specially-designed plywood arch, across the stream. Following that, several blocks of red paper were stacked, one after the other, atop the wooden framework. The key here is compression; cramming as mamy reams of paper into the given area as possible. For additional strength and support, a 1.5-degree wedge was hammered in between each of the blocks. Once all the individual components were in position, the wooden support was removed. Surprisingly though, the structure can easily hold its own weight, makeing it, quite possibly, the world’s first paper bridge that can actually be walked upon. The designer said:
The weight (downward force) is transferred into lateral thrust by the arch construction, therefore most of the weight bearing is on the stone gabions, not on the paper. It relies on vernacular architectural principles as used in the drystone walls and the original pack-horse bridges, which have stood, in many cases, for more than a century.
The PaperBridge, which took nearly 3 years to complete, was built using paper, supplied by UK-based paper manufacturer James Cropper. Interestingly, every time it rains, the sheets of paper get wet and therefore expand, making the bridge stronger and more weatherproof. Its color-fast quality ensures that the red pigment does not leach into, and consequently damage, the pristine Lake District environment. According to the artist, the bright red color of the bridge provides a delightful contrast to the earthy palette of the surrounding landscape. Messam stated:
When it rains, the bridge gets wet. but the compression is so tight across the bridge that very little water ingresses into the paper. Any water that does forces the fibres to swell. This causes the compression to increase and makes the bridge stronger… Red contrasts with the green of the surrounding hills. It makes them look greener. Then there’s the way your eyes and brain process red and how it stands out even when it’s far away. I use a lot of red in my work, but only where it’s the right color.
The PaperBridge is part of a ten-day project, at the end of which the structure will be disassembled and, the reams of paper will be sent for recycling. To know more about the project, visit Steve Messam’s official website.