“Millau Viaduct”, by Sir Norman Foster
When we talk about grand-scale projects and great architects, we tend to focus first on a magnificent building or an important public complex. Here, we will look at one of the most globally influential and current architects, Sir Norman Foster, and one of his most iconic projects outside his usual constructions: the Millau Viaduct, in France.
At 343 metres tall and in contact with the ground in only 9 places (with a total length of almost 2.5km), this bridge broke the world record for the tallest structure. Constructed in just 3 years and unveiled a month ahead of schedule, this is the result of 10 years of study, created by two very talented men.
Conceived by French engineer Michel Virlogeux and designed by Norman Foster, the bridge blends seamlessly into the magnificent, well-preserved, natural surroundings. Its appearance is similar to that of a sailing boat; its 7 slender pillars support the long deck with shrouds.
The Millau Viaduct is the most spectacular stretch of the La Méridienne, the A75 motorway which links Paris and the Mediterranean. Surrounded on all sides by beauty and culture, it crosses the River Lot, is at a tangent to Peyre (one of the most beautiful towns in France) and runs close to Millau. There is a viewing area from which visitors can contemplate the entire construction and appreciate the architect’s intent, in which “a work of man must fuse with nature”. Foster is proud that his bridge “rises out of the landscape with the delicacy of a butterfly”, while impressed by its elegance, its simplicity, its complexity and its lightness, French President Jacques Chirac described the bridge on its inauguration as a “marvel of art and architecture”.
To honour the workers who contributed to this magnificent project, “defying the laws of gravity and the violent winds of the valley”, their names have been recorded forever in a plaque located at the very highest part of the bridge.
There is no doubt that Sir Norman Foster is a magnificent architect, who at 80 years of age takes on the very greatest architectural challenges. This is exemplified by other outstanding examples such as the new German Parliament, the Metro in Bilbao, Chek Lap Kok Airport in Hong Kong or the Red Cross building in London.