2004 - Millau, France

Millau Viaduct

The Millau Viaduct is a magnificent example, in the long and great French tradition, of audacious works of art, a tradition begun at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by the great Gustave Eiffel.
Jacques Chirac, former President of France

Bridges are often considered to belong to the realm of the engineer rather than that of the architect. But the architecture of infrastructure has a powerful impact on the environment and the Millau Viaduct, designed in close collaboration with structural engineers, illustrates how the architect can play an integral role in the design of bridges. It follows the Millennium Bridge over the River Thames in expressing a fascination with the relationship between function, technology and aesthetics in a graceful structural form.

Located in southern France, the bridge completes a hitherto missing link in the A75 autoroute from Clermont-Ferrand to Béziers across the Massif Central. The A75 now provides a direct, high-speed route from Paris to the Mediterranean coast and on to Barcelona. The bridge crosses the River Tarn, which runs through a spectacular gorge between two high plateaux. Interestingly, alternative readings of the topography suggested two possible structural approaches: to celebrate the act of crossing the river; or to articulate the challenge of spanning the 2.46 kilometres from one plateau to the other in the most economical and elegant manner. Although historically the river was the geological generator of the landscape, it is very narrow at this point, and so it was the second reading that suggested the most appropriate structural solution.

A cable-stayed, masted structure, the bridge is delicate, transparent, and has the optimum span between columns. Its construction broke several records: it has the highest pylons in the world, the highest road bridge deck in Europe, and it superceded the Eiffel Tower as the tallest structure in France. Each of its sections spans 342 metres and its piers range in height from 75 metres to 245 metres, with the masts rising a further 87 metres above the road deck. To accommodate the expansion and contraction of the concrete deck, each column splits into two thinner, more flexible columns below the roadway, forming an A-frame above deck level. The tapered form of the columns both expresses their structural loads and minimises their profile in elevation. Not only does this give the bridge a dramatic silhouette, but crucially, it also makes the minimum intervention in the landscape.

Millau Viaduct

Millau France

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  • Appointment 1993
  • Completion 2004
  • Client French Ministry of Equipment, Transport, Housing, Tourism and Sea
  • Collaborating Architect Chapelet-Defol-Mousseigne
  • Structural Engineer EEG (Europe Etudes Gecti), Sogelerg, SERF
  • Landscape Architect Agence TER
  • ECCS European Award for Steel Structures
  • RIBA Award
  • D&AD Gold Award – Millau Viaduct
  • Travel + Leisure Design Award for Best Infrastructure
  • Singapore Construction Excellence Award - Civil Category,
  • Chicago Athenaeum International Architecture Award
  • Staalbouwwedstrijd / Concours Construction Acier – Winner International category,
  • IABSE (International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering) Outstanding Structure Award
  • The Building Exchange (BEX) Award – Best Use of Architectural or Structural Design in a Regeneration Scheme, 2nd Place,
  • Balthasar Neumann Prize – Commendation,
  • Wallpaper Design Awards – Best New Public Building,
  • This may be the lightest, sleekest bridge design anywhere. Framed by the surroundings, it is pure environmental sculpture.
    The Washington Post
  • Millau Viaduct

  • On a misty morning, from the valley’s edge, the new viaduct appears to glide through the clouds. But if the view from the ground is spectacular, drivers get nothing short of a widescreen masterpiece.
    Wallpaper*
  • To watch Foster's bridge emerge from the mist is one of the most thrilling architectural experiences you can have. The strength of the project is that it does not try to pretend it is part of this natural landscape. Nor does it attempt to be sculpture. It is a magnificent piece of infrastructure.
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