CLOSE
Library of Congress
Library of Congress

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge with Gay Talese

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

Last night, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, Gay Talese joined former New York Times Metro columnist Clyde Haberman at the Museum of the City of New York to reflect on the four-year period during which he witnessed the building of the bridge.

The night opened with an introduction of the bridge: How it helped Staten Island grow from an enclave of farms to practically a city in its own right, with 470,000 people living there today; how the residents of Bay Ridge Brooklyn protested the disruptive construction with signs that read "Who Needs The Bridge?"; how it was the longest suspension bridge in the world for 20 years after it was built (it now sits at number 11, but remains the longest in the country).

"It doesn't make a difference to me how long it is," Talese remarked in his opening statements, emphasizing for the first of many times that he was interested in learning "who builds these things, who does the work?"

In his book, first published in 1964 and now re-released with an updated preface and afterword, The Bridge: The Building of the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge, Talese answers those questions of the human element, detailing the stories of the boomers (as he calls them)—the men who build bridges and skyscrapers. He knew them, and remembers them still, by name. Over the span of several years, he wrote at least a dozen stories for the Times on the construction, and between reporting those and going on his own time, Talese developed an immense respect and understanding of these workers. He would go with them to bars after work ("Six, or seven, or whenever the sun went down") and once even drove through the night with a group of Native Americans working on the bridge to spend the weekend with them on the reservation back in Montreal.

Among those Talese talked with at the time were James and John McKee, sons to a former ironworker who was permanently disabled after a collapsed crane sent him careening two stories to the ground, and brothers to the late Gerard McKee, the third and final man to fall to his death while working on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. One chapter of the book recreates the day of McKee's death in harrowing, intimate detail with the help of Edward Iannielli, a friend and fellow boomer who had tried unsuccessfully to hold onto the much-larger McKee as he slipped off the south edge of the catwalk.

Following McKee's death, the workers union went on strike, demanding nets be placed below the precarious workzones. After that, there were six more falls, none of them fatal. One man, Robert Walsh, fell twice; fittingly, Walsh is now the president of the ironworker's union, Talese told the audience at the Museum.

Walsh isn't the only former bridge-builder Talese visited on the occasion of the anniversary. He even called some of the former Brooklyn residents who opposed the bridge, those who were forced to relocate. "Most say 'we're better off,'" Talese reported. "I don't know if this is a minority opinion, but it's an opinion."

Now in their '70s, James and John McKee are retired, still living on Staten Island. Both joined Iannielli working on the World Trade Center Twin Towers after completing the Bridge, along with other Verrazano alum. Some of those, like Eugene Spratt, who worked on the bridge and the Twin Towers, now have grandchildren working on the new World Trade Center. Talese says he is interested in their stories as well, these third-or-more-generation ironworkers whom he respects for being "part of a New York that celebrates hard work."

Fifty years ago today, there was a ceremony to mark the opening of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, for the first time connecting all five boroughs of the city via roadways. The ironworkers who built the iconic structure were not invited to that celebration. Talese claims they didn't care, though—they were proud just to have built something that would outlive them.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Courtesy of Fernando Artigas
arrow
architecture
Step Inside This Stunning, Nature-Inspired Art Gallery in Tulum, Mexico
Courtesy of Fernando Artigas
Courtesy of Fernando Artigas

Upon closer inspection, this building in Tulum, Mexico, doesn’t seem like a suitable place to house an art exhibit. Everything that makes it so visually striking—its curved walls, uneven floors, and lack of drab, white backgrounds—also makes it a challenge for curators.

But none of these factors deterred Santiago Rumney Guggenheim—the great-grandson of the late famed art collector and heiress Peggy Guggenheim—from christening the space an art gallery. And thus, IK LAB was born.

“We want to trigger the creative minds of artists to create for a completely different environment,” Rumney Guggenheim, the gallery’s director, tells Artsy. “We are challenging the artists to make work for a space that doesn’t have straight walls or floors—we don’t even have walls really, it’s more like shapes coming out of the floor. And the floor is hardly a floor.”

A view inside IK LAB
Courtesy of Fernando Artigas

A view inside IK LAB
Courtesy of Fernando Artigas

A view inside IK LAB
Courtesy of Fernando Artigas

A view inside IK LAB
Courtesy of Fernando Artigas

IK LAB was brought to life by Rumney Guggenheim and Jorge Eduardo Neira Sterkel, the founder of luxury resort Azulik. The two properties, which have a similar style of architecture, share a site near the Caribbean coast. IK LAB may be unconventional, but it certainly makes a statement. Its ceiling is composed of diagonal slats resembling the veins of a leaf, and a wavy wooden texture breaks up the monotony of concrete floors. Entry to the gallery is gained through a 13-foot-high glass door that’s shaped a little like a hobbit hole.

The gallery was also designed to be eco-conscious. The building is propped up on stilts, which not only lets wildlife pass underneath, but also gives guests a view overlooking the forest canopy. Many of the materials have been sourced from local jungles. Gallery organizers say the building is designed to induce a “meditative state,” and visitors are asked to go barefoot to foster a more sensory experience. (Be careful, though—you wouldn't want to trip on the uneven floor.)

The gallery's first exhibition, "Alignments," features the suspended sculptures of Artur Lescher, the perception-challenging works of Margo Trushina, and the geometrical pendulums of Tatiana Trouvé. One piece by Trouvé features 250 pendulums suspended from the gallery's domed ceiling. If you want to see this exhibit, be sure to get there before it ends in September.

[h/t Dezeen]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
architecture
Engineers Have Figured Out How the Leaning Tower of Pisa Withstands Earthquakes
iStock
iStock

Builders had barely finished the second floor of the Tower of Pisa when the structure started to tilt. Despite foundational issues, the project was completed, and eight centuries and at least four major earthquakes later, the precarious landmark remains standing. Now, a team of engineers from the University of Bristol and other institutions claims to have finally solved the mystery behind its endurance.

Pisa is located between the Arno and Serchio rivers, and the city's iconic tower was built on soft ground consisting largely of clay, shells, and fine sand. The unstable foundation meant the tower had been sinking little by little until 2008, when construction workers removed 70 metric tons of soil to stabilize the site. Today it leans at a 4-degree angle—about 13 feet past perfectly vertical.

Now researchers say that the dirt responsible for the tower's lean also played a vital role in its survival. Their study, which will be presented at this year's European Conference on Earthquake Engineering in Greece, shows that the combination of the tall, stiff tower with the soft soil produced an effect known as dynamic soil-structure interaction, or DSSI. During an earthquake, the tower doesn't move and shake with the earth the same way it would with a firmer, more stable foundation. According to the engineers, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is the world's best example of the effects of DSSI.

"Ironically, the very same soil that caused the leaning instability and brought the tower to the verge of collapse can be credited for helping it survive these seismic events," study co-author George Mylonakis said in a statement.

The tower's earthquake-proof foundation was an accident, but engineers are interested in intentionally incorporating the principles of DSSI into their structures—as long as they can keep them upright at the same time.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios