Date of Degree
MA (Master of Arts)
Barbara Burlison Mooney
The St. Johns Bridge is a 1,207 foot span suspension bridge crossing the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon, connecting the Portland communities of St. Johns and Linnton on the eastern and western banks, respectively. Commissioned in 1928, the bridge was completed in 1931, with much fanfare in the local community. The two neighborhoods are some distance from downtown Portland, and the bridge brought prestige to an otherwise nondescript locale. It was designed by the New York-based firm of Steinman & Robinson. David Barnard Steinman (1886-1960) acted as the public face for the firm, however, and the design of the bridge has traditionally been ascribed to him in the literature. Steinman was one of the most prominent bridge engineers of the twentieth century, and is recognized today, as he was even within his lifetime, as such. It was a position which he worked fervently to attain.
Steinman wrote extensively concerning the St. Johns Bridge and spoke of it as his own; his extensive use of the St. Johns Bridge as an example of aesthetics in bridge engineering is related to the early twentieth-century debate between engineers and architects regarding the role of each in bridge design. As an engineer who sought, without the aid of the architect, to build bridges which were objects of beauty, he asserted the role of the engineer as artist. The predisposition toward the engineered machine aesthetic in the intellectual climate of the avant-garde in the early twentieth century enabled Steinman to style himself as such an artist--even though the St. Johns Bridge, which he frequently employed in this regard, was not a work of functionalist aesthetics. While the architectural avant-garde was borrowing from the engineer for artistic rejuvenation, Steinman was in an advantageous position to argue for the engineer-artist, thereby casting the engineer as an individual sui generis, equal to and without need of the architect.
Copyright 2010 Garrett Brandon Nobbs
Nobbs, Garrett Brandon. "The St. Johns Bridge: a prayer in steel." thesis, University of Iowa, 2010.