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Educational Resources > 3D Digital Renderings of the Bridge of Flowers

Educational Resources

3D Digital Renderings of the Bridge of Flowers
Talisa Watts, Christopher Hoerrner, Sebastian Sak, Jonah Tobin, and Andrew Kraunelis

What is Structural Modeling?
A structural model is a digital version of an existing or planned structure (building, bridge, etc.). Models can be created in two or three dimensions and can be used to visualize a structure or simulate its behavior. Engineers use these models to create “virtual bridges” which they may test for safety before constructing the actual bridge. Engineers may also create virtual copies of existing bridges to assess their need for repair or reinforcement.

What is Finite Element Analysis?
Large, complex shapes are difficult to assess using known equations and hand calculations. However, it is easy to use such methods to predict the behavior of a small, simple shape. Finite element analysis is the process of modeling a complex structure by dividing it into tiny, simple pieces. Engineers note the way each piece is connected and use these relations to calculate the behavior of each section as they interact with each other. The number of pieces and calculations necessary to accurately depict a structure increases as the size and complexity of the structure increases, so engineers use computers to perform these calculations quickly.

The Bridge of Flowers
Structural modeling and finite element analysis are relatively new technologies in the bridge design. For thousands of years, complex bridge structures have been designed based on historical failures and successes. Engineers developed much of the modern-day bridge code based on physical testing rather than computer simulation.

The Bridge of Flowers was designed well before the introduction of structural modeling, but digital models can still provide value in showing behaviors of this historical structure that are invisible to the naked eye.

If you stand on a wood plank placed between two blocks, the plank will bend. The distance between the center of the plank before and after you stood on it is known as its deflection. A bridge will bend similarly when loaded at its center, but its deflection is very small, often invisible to the naked eye. Finite element analysis can be used to visualize the deflection of the Bridge of Flowers. The image below shows a heat map of the bridge’s deflection as generated by a finite element model. Blue colors indicate a relatively small deflection, while yellow and red colors indicate a relatively large deflection.


The deformations displayed by the heat map are indistinguishable by the naked eye. However, they are clearly visible when multiplied by 16,000, as shown below.

For more information about the construction of this model, please review Bridge of Flowers Structural Model (PDF file) by Jonah Tobin, and Andrew Kraunelis.

3D Digital Renderings of the Bridge of Flowers

Following are recorded views of a highly detailed 3D digital reconstruction of the Bridge of Flowers.

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