Golden Gate Bridge

Building Type:
Golden Gate Bridge
Current Name:
Golden Gate Bridge
Current Use:
Current Condition:
The Golden Gate Bridge is San Francisco’s most iconic and recognized structure, and stands as both an engineering and a design achievement. Two soaring towers support the massive catenary cables from with the bridge deck is suspended, spanning the entrance to San Francisco bay, and connecting San Francisco to Marin County.   Designing a bridge to cover a distance of 6700 feet over a deep straight with strong winds and water currents was a tremendous engineering challenge in the 1920s. During the course of its design it morphed from an ugly combined cantilever and suspension model with an entrance portal imitating the Arc de Triomphe de L’Etoile in Paris (by Strauss in 1921) to the graceful suspension bridge we know today. The suspension design is credited to Leon Moisseiff, a New York bridge designer. The design was further refined and simplified by the first consulting architect, John Eberson, a nationally known architect of lavish theaters with an emphasis on special effects. He introduced Art Deco elements and the stepping or indented towers, which are slimmer at the top to emphasize the height of the towers. Design for the toll plazas was given to the local architecture team of Irving and Gertrude Morrow. The row of elongated Art Deco toll booths under a unifying roof resembles a portal and clearly demarcates the bridge’s south end. Initial plans for a plaza at the north end of the bridge were not executed due to budget constraints.  The Morrows are credited with proposing and selecting the bridge’s distinctive orange color. Closely related to the color selection is the lighting design, which plays an important role in the visibility of the bridge at night. Morrow advocated the avoidance of uniform lighting and a decrease in the light intensity as the towers rise, with the tops of the towers merging with the dark of the sky. The effect emphasizes the dramatic soaring of the high towers. Due to budgetary constraints, this lighting system was not installed as proposed in 1937 but only in 1987 after the fiftieth anniversary celebration.


The roadway with three lanes in each direction is complemented with walkways on each side to serve pedestrians and cyclists. The walkways include alcoves that allow pedestrians to stop and take in views of the surrounding scenery and admire the careful detailing of the bridge itself.


Structural and technical improvements have continued since the bridge originally opened. High gale winds, especially in 1951, made it necessary to reinforce the bridge deck, which is not connected to the towers and could widely sway and oscillate. Since the 1960s, new methods of removing old and chipped paint were developed and paint coatings have been improved. The original streetlights on the bridge and its approach have been replaced with rectangular “shoebox” mercury vapor fixtures added to the original light poles. Doyle Drive, the original approach highway that connects the bridge to San Francisco’s Marina District, is currently being replaced with the so-called “Presidio Parkway” scheduled to open in 2015 and provide a safer and more attractive approach structure.

Van Der Zee, John, The Gate: The True Story of The Design and Construction of The Golden Gate Bridge, New York, Simon & Schuster, 1986.

MacDonald, Donald and Ira Nadel, Golden Gate Bridge – History and Design of an Icon, San Francisco, Chronicle Books, 2008.

Starr, Kevin, Golden Gate – The Life and Times of America’s Greatest Bridge, New York, Bloomsbury Press, 2010.

Image Credits:
Inge Horton



DOCOMOMO US/Northern California

P.O. Box 29226
San Francisco, CA 94129-0226


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