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What Sydney Harbour Bridge could have looked like

Original article can be found here by Architecture and Design


Standing at 134 metres high, it‘s the largest steel arch bridge in the world and one of the most iconic landmarks in Sydney. Fondly nicknamed the Coathanger (for obvious reasons), the Sydney Harbour Bridge is now synonymous with “The Emerald City”, but it could have looked very different.

In 1900, the government organised a worldwide competition for the design and construction of the harbour bridge. More than 70 designs were proposed, all of them were rejected. Dorman Long eventually won the contract in 1924 after successive competitions.

But did the judges make the right call? We wanted to find out what Australians really think, so we created realistic renderings of some of the most interesting entries and asked 1000 people to choose their favourite.

1. Norman Selfe’s design

Norman Selfe proposed this design in 1902. His design was actually accepted by the New South Wales authorities, but the story doesn‘t end there; An economic slowdown resulted in a change of government, the incoming government then rejected the whole project, so the bridge remained unbuilt. Selfe might not have won this one, but he was successful and well-regarded enough to have an area of the city (Normanhurst) named after him during his lifetime, so it‘s not all bad.

2. Dorman Long & Co. Ltd’s designs

The eventual winners of the 1924 competition and creators of the bridge we know and love today Dorman Long & Co submitted a total of seven tenders, these are two of the alternate designs they proposed. This design was for a cantilever bridge with the centre span of 0.49 km (1,600 feet). The plans failed to meet the required specifications because they used precast concrete blocks rather than granite.

This other design by the company was considered by judges to be “simple and elegant, but aesthetically too severe for its setting”. Keep trying guys, you‘ll get there in the end.

3. F. Ernest Stowe’s design

Francis Ernest Stowe submitted this radical design in 1922. This one also almost got made, the bizarre three-way structure was only narrowly rejected by the government. Stowe‘s design links Balls Head, Miller’s Point and Balmain, meeting in the middle with a central tower on Goat Island. He argued that his design was cheaper and quicker to implement than the other designs and would avoid the destruction of the North Shore. The central tower was designed to double as a war memorial, with Goat Island renamed Anzac Isle.

4. P.E. Henderson’s design

One of the earliest known plans for the harbour bridge was this design from Peter Henderson, but he wasn‘t the first person to moot the idea of a better solution for moving people across the city. There had been plans to build a bridge as early as 1815, when architect Francis Greenway proposed to Governor Lachlan Macquarie that a bridge be built to connect the northern and southern shores. In 1857 P.E. Henderson proposed the construction of this bridge from Dawes’ Point to Milsom’s Point on the North Shore.