Monday 4 July 2011

Elegance in reinforced concrete

Civil engineer Louis Auguste Harel de La Noë trained in Paris and worked in various parts of France, but returned to his native Cotes du Nord (now the Cotes d'Armor) in 1901. Much of his work was on the department's new railway networks. I talked some time ago about his elegant railway viaduct at Les Ponts Neufs; here is another example of his work in the coastal town of Erquy.

Built in 1913, the Viaduc de Caroual made extensive use of reinforced concrete - some 70 tons of it. As with the bridge at Les Ponts Neufs, it was innovative in doing so, especially given the particular challenges posed by this site: the ground was not stable, so the central arch had to be 45m wide.

For tourists, the railway network 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. The viaduct is now used by pedestrians.

The joy of Harel de la Noë's work is that it is attractive and distinctive, going beyond the purely functional. No surprise, then, that there is an association devoted to promoting and preserving his work, and another dedicated to this viaduct.

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