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In a studio project with real-world military applications, senior Texas A&M environmental design students recently designed and fabricated working prototypes for lightweight, collapsible bridges that can be easily deployed to help soldiers traverse tough terrains like narrow rivers and ravines.
A challenge for students used to designing buildings from a list of needs, wants and spatial confinements, the bridge project presented a problem limited only by materials and the imagination to solve it, said studio director Negar Kalantar, assistant professor of architecture.
“This was one of the most difficult assignments I’d had,” noted Tayler Dollahite of Hamilton, Texas. “I’ve done bridges before, but they were always static.”
After a failed first attempt, Dollahite, and her partner Sophia Novak of Bells, Texas, drew inspiration from Chinese folding fans, creating a triangle-trussed, carbon fiber bridge that extends from two to 16 feet.
“It was the most satisfying thing ever when we finally nailed it,” said Dollahite.
One of the studio’s best solutions, Kalantar said, was Alex Karshis’ and Luis Luna’s folding bridge, which collapses into a 15-pound backpack to be easily carried by a single soldier. The bridge employs three interlocking curved platforms made from a fiberglass-coated foam base connected with aluminum poles. The 16-foot long bridges can connect to create a 32-foot bridge for foot traffic or be placed alongside each other to facilitate vehicles.
“We wanted to keep this as practical as possible,” said Karshis, who is from San Antonio. “We thought it would be convenient for them to be able to be hands free and still have this on them.”
Kalantar plans to show the studio’s top four designs to engineering and military personnel and is seeking funds to create fullscale prototypes.