I'm quite a fan of Breton architect Louis Auguste Harel de La Noë, leading architect of the (now closed) Cotes du Nord railways. Born in Saint Brieuc, de la Noë studied in Paris before returning to Brittany as chief engineer of roads and bridges for the Côtes du Nord in 1901. He had already won awards for an x-shaped bridge in Le Mans (sadly destroyed in the Second World War) and for his pioneering work in reinforced concrete construction. He would now play a vital role in the building of the region's new local rail network, impressing with his light and elegant bridges.
For tourists, the railway was a way of accessing the beautiful Breton coast. For those who lived in the region, it was an essential way of moving around an area whose infrastructure was otherwise poor. However, the line faced growing financial losses and closed in 1948. Since then, other bridges have been demolished; thankfully, this one has been spared that fate.
Over 237 metres long and 27.6 metres high, the Ponts-Neufs viaduct is an impressive sight. The tall pillars and ornamented spans are more than visually appealing, though: constraints of time and budget called for technical innovations. Built in 1913, this was among the first reinforced concrete constructions. Building methods including prefabrication and standardised processes were also novel.
The joy of Harel de la Noë's work is that it is attractive and distinctive, going beyond the purely functional. Unfortunately, the pioneering nature of the technology he used brought its own problems. The sand used included salt; bubbles were not removed by vibration; and the steel was insufficiently protected.
|The viaduct during construction|
Nonetheless, the bridge not only survived but continued to soar over its valley - and thanks to the hard work of the association devoted to promoting and preserving his work, it has recently been restored and brought back into use for pedestrians and cyclists.