How to Build Leonardo da Vinci’s Ingenious Self-Supporting Bridge: Renaissance Innovations You Can Still Enjoy Today

Leonar­do da Vin­ci, the most accom­plished exam­ple of the poly­math­ic, artist-engi­neer “Renais­sance man,” came up with an aston­ish­ing num­ber of inven­tions great and small in the late 15th and ear­ly 16th cen­tu­ry, from the heli­copter to the musi­cal vio­la organ­ista, the tank to the auto­mat­ed bob­bin winder. Even the devices he was born too late to invent, he improved: humans had crossed the hum­ble bridge, for instance, for count­less cen­turies, but then Leonar­do cre­at­ed a new, self-sup­port­ing vari­ety whose design, as fol­lowed by a kid and his dad in the video above, still impress­es today.

“With a series of wood­en poles and beams, ‘Stick-Boy’ shows his Dad how to build Leonar­do da Vinci‘s self-sup­port­ing arch bridge, also known as the emer­gency bridge,” say the descrip­tion by Rion Nakaya at The Kid Should See This. “No nails, screws, rope, glues, notch­es, or oth­er fas­ten­ers are hold­ing the bridge in place… just fric­tion and grav­i­ty.”

Clear­ly it works, but how? Accord­ing to a post at the blog ArchiS­crip­tor on self-sup­port­ing struc­tures, all such bridges, from Leonar­do’s on down, real­ly do rely on only those two forces. “Notch­es in the mem­bers make it eas­i­er to con­struct, but strict­ly speak­ing aren’t nec­es­sary as long as there is some fric­tion. Grav­i­ty will do the rest.”

Leonar­do, the post con­tin­ues, “explored two forms of the struc­ture – a bridge and a dome. His work was com­mis­sioned by the Bor­gia fam­i­ly, with the man­date to design light and strong struc­tures which could be built and tak­en down quick­ly. This was to aid them in their con­stant strug­gle for pow­er with the Medici fam­i­ly in Renais­sance Italy.” The site of the Leonardo3 Muse­um adds, “we do not know whether this bridge was ever put to prac­ti­cal use, but it is not hard to believe that such a mod­u­lar con­struc­tion, extreme­ly easy to trans­port and to assem­ble, must have met with great favor from the Renais­sance lords who were always on the look­out for new tech­nolo­gies to put to mil­i­tary use.”

Leonar­do him­self called this “the bridge of safe­ty,” and it counts as only one of the inge­nious bridges he designed in his life­time. For the Duke Sforza he also invent­ed sev­er­al oth­ers includ­ing a revolv­ing bridge which, accord­ing to Leonar­do da Vin­ci Inven­tions, “could be quick­ly packed up and trans­port­ed for use by armies on the move to pass over bod­ies of water,” could “swing across a stream or moat and set down on the oth­er side so that sol­diers could pass with lit­tle trou­ble,” and “incor­po­rat­ed a rope-and-pul­ley sys­tem for both quick employ­ment and easy trans­port.” All use­ful tools indeed for those who once sought mil­i­tary dom­i­nance in Italy, but even more ben­e­fi­cial as inspi­ra­tion for the Renais­sance boys and girls of the 21st cen­tu­ry.

via The Kid Should See This

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Leonar­do Da Vinci’s To Do List (Cir­ca 1490) Is Much Cool­er Than Yours

Leonar­do da Vin­ci Draws Designs of Future War Machines: Tanks, Machine Guns & More

Watch Leonar­do da Vinci’s Musi­cal Inven­tion, the Vio­la Organ­ista, Being Played for the Very First Time

The Anatom­i­cal Draw­ings of Renais­sance Man, Leonar­do da Vin­ci

Leonar­do da Vinci’s Hand­writ­ten Resume (1482)

An Ani­mat­ed His­to­ry Of Avi­a­tion: From da Vinci’s Sketch­es to Apol­lo 11

Did Leonar­do da Vin­ci Paint a First Mona Lisa Before The Mona Lisa?

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Andy Fairchild says:

    Hi, can you let me know the dimen­sions of the dow­el­ing and wood­en beams for mak­ing the
    de-vini­ci bridge.

    Many thanks


  • dan pn says:

    A Song Dynasty paint­ing (1085–1145), illus­trates The Rain­bow bridge which was a self sup­port­ing Arch bridge with Sim­i­lar design.
    It is entire­ly pos­si­ble that Mar­co Polo vis­it­ed Chi­na dur­ing the Yuan Dynasty, and took (or steal) the idea, and brought it back to Europe.
    Euro­pean Col­o­niz­ers had sev­er­al hun­dred years of his­to­ry of pil­lag­ing, eras­ing the cul­tures and tak­ing the ideas of var­i­ous King­doms and Civ­i­liza­tions around the world.

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