It's quite cheeky of architect Donald MacDonald not to include a single photograph of the Golden Gate Bridge in his little 128-page book about what is considered one of the modern wonders of the world. Instead, he provides seventy of his own color illustrations to help him and co-writer Ira Nadel tell the history of one of the most beautiful examples of bridge engineering, both in terms of structural design and aesthetic appeal. How the Golden Gate Bridge manages to maintain its iconic status - attracting nine million visitors annually and 1.8 billion vehicles since its opening - is due to what the co-authors describe simply as "geometry". Six brief chapters cover its genesis from the City Beautiful movement showcased at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition through a diverse range of design scenarios through the treacherous construction in 1933-37 and then finally to its enduring survival through the 21st century. I was surprised to discover the pervasive Mayan influences in the structural engineering and how the ultimately Art Deco-inspired design really served to showcase the simplified detail behind its impressive continuity and monumental verticality.
Although one would have expected the use of gold given its name, the bridge's arresting shade of "international orange" was the result of extensive debate. MacDonald uses the creative latitude of his illustrations to show what colors and patterns were seriously considered, including some truly ugly striped patterns meant to allow the military greater visibility during heavy fog conditions. Even the height of the towers was a source of controversy as original designs had them rise to nearly 1,000 feet, or the equal of the Eiffel Tower, versus the final 746 feet. The turbulence of the weather conditions was a key consideration, and as it turns out, the bridge's elastic suspension has been successful in responding to gale-force winds. Particularly interesting is the last chapter on the bridge's current state wherein efforts are focused on earthquake retro-fitting and suicide prevention barriers. MacDonald should know since his firm has been instrumental in the redesign of the toll plaza, the seismic retrofit and the various proposals for a suicide deterrence barrier. This is not the most comprehensive look at the Golden Gate Bridge, but I find MacDonald and Nadel's insights never less than interesting.