Popsicle Stick Crafts
Chinese Rainbow Bridge
Last year (2008) I watched a NOVA documentary on PBS about an ancient Chinese bridge called the Rainbow Bridge. Half way through watching a funny thing happened, a random thought (more of a question) came to mind...could a scale model Rainbow Bridge be built using popsicle stick crafts by applying the same principles used by the Chinese? The short answer was yes based on Professor Tang Huan Cheng's research.
The documentary centered around Professor Tang Huan Cheng, who is an expert in Chinese bridges, and his life-long fascination with the Rainbow Bridge because of the materials and techniques used in assembling the bridge. The problem was the only existence and reference of the bridge was in a 900 year old painting. However, the preserved painting revealed the intricate assembly of the bottom of the bridge and provided insightful clues into how the bridge was actually put together. The level of structural engineering, given the time period, is a magnificent feat of human ingenuity and what has sparked my interest in the Rainbow Bridge.
The involvement of Bashar Altabba, a structural engineer who teaches at MIT, and Marcus Brandt, a timber framer from Pennsylvania in assisting Tang Huan Cheng uncover the secrets of how the Chinese must have assembled the bridge centuries ago offered their expertise and prospective in a highly specialized field. The progression of heated debate and discussions between Tang Huan Cheng, Bashar Altabba and Marcus Brandt was fascinating as conflicting theories come to light from all sides. As proof of concepts were put to the test and the actual assembly of a Rainbow Bridge in the town of Jinze, China was erected it was a grand sight to behold. The method of using interlocking wooden beams, depicted in the 900 year old painting, to create an arc was an awe inspiring sight because it was both beautiful and functional.
Professor Cheng described it best by saying:
"Bridges have always helped bring people together. You can see it today. People from both sides of the river are now more closely connected. But the rainbow arch is also a bridge across time, from the present to the past."
The highlight of the documentary was the completion of the bridge and a grand demonstration of its structural strength by having a water buffalo on each side of the bridge walk to the center at the same time with a combined weight of 4 tons. The bridge passed the stress test in front of all to see and the town celebrated with their connecting neighbors.
The Chinese Rainbow Bridge has inspired me to construct a bridge of my own using a similar interlocking principle as the foundation. The challenge I imposed was constructing the bridge entirely out of popsicle sticks with no tape, glue or string - only the tension of the popsicle sticks holding everything together.
500 popsicle sticks were used in constructing my Chinese Rainbow Bridge. Photos and video coming soon.
This posicle stick formation is the foundation of the rainbow bridge. As you can see, they are all held together using only tension..
Building upon the foundation to construct the bridge, additional popsicle sticks are weaved in to make a platform .
Once the above process is completed, they are put together like the picture shown above with one of the verticle center popsicle sticks removed so that both sides are interlocked together.