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Basic types of bridge structures

Updated on November 21, 2010

There are many different ways to design a bridge, now let's look at basic types of structures.


Beam is a rigid, usually horizontal, structural element which may itself form an entire simple bridge. Simplest beam bridge is such as a log or a stone across a stream.


Cantilever bridge is a bridge with rigid arms extending from both sides of a base, the inner ones usually supporting central span. A cantilever is a bracket secured at one end with the other end hanging free. The simplest form of cantilever bridge has a central beam supported between opposite cantilevers,


Arch bridge is a bridge with one or more curved structural span.


  • Semicircular Arch, Roman arches were semicircular. This structure had important consequences, it was possible for Roman engineers to build their bridges out from the shore a span at a time - cofferdam, then foundations, then pier, then arch - rather than having to go through the much more difficult operation of putting the entire bridge substructure in position first.


  • An elliptical arch has the shape of half an ellipse, a semicircular arch can be flattened to make an elliptical arch.


  • A segmental arch, its curve is less than semicircular segment of a circle.


  • Bowstring arch likes the string of a bow that is being flattened, the ends of the arch are linked to resist outward thrust.


* Chinese arch, some Chinese arch bridges often have remarkably slender crowns of semicircular arches, which soar high above riverbanks, necessitating flights of steps on both sides. Others have many arches , with only those at the centre enlarging to accommodate boat traffic beneath.

Zhao Zhou Bridge, built in the 7th century, its 37m (121ft) span remained the longest single arch in China until the middle of the 20th century
Zhao Zhou Bridge, built in the 7th century, its 37m (121ft) span remained the longest single arch in China until the middle of the 20th century

Suspension bridge is a bridge with its deck supported from above by large cables or chains hanging from towers.


Cable-stayed bridge is a bridge with a deck supported from towers by straight cables.


A truss bridge is a bridge composed of trusses.Truss bridges are one of the oldest types of modern bridges.


  • A king-post truss is a basic feature of medieval timber building. It could be multiplied, extended, inverted or overlapped.


  • Burr truss or arch is a combination of an arch and a multiple king post truss design.


  • Town lattice truss is a system of timber diagonals with no verticals.


  • Long truss resemble a series of giant X's.

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