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Projects : Golden Gate Bridge Exhibit

Golden Gate Bridge Outdoor Exhibition


Cable Tension vs. Tower Height

The twin cables would slope more steeply if the towers were taller. When the slope is steep, more of the tension (pulling) force in the cables is efficiently directed upward, rather than horizontally. But taller towers (the Bridge’s were the tallest in the world when built) mean more structural and construction problems and more cost – a classic engineering tradeoff.

STATUS: Exhibit currently installed in the Battery exhibit area.

[read more about this exhibit]

This exhibit started with this simple drawing and the desire to show visitors how the differences in tower height affect the amount of tension needed to support the bridge deck.
Many prototypes were tested at the Golden Gate Bridge when developing this exhibit where public feedback could be easily gathered.
One early suggestion was to make the posts resemble the towers of the Bridge - while originally using graphics, this would latter be cut to shape.
A very popular exhibit from the beginning, visitor interaction help to determine the appropriate height of the towers, as well as what materials to use in the final construction.
All of the visitor feedback, as well as the comments from the project evaluators are integrated into the final model developed at The Exploratium.
The revised model is tested outside the Exploratorium workshop.
Early draft of information board for this exhibit.Note:

Although originally entitled "...Tower Size", this was later changed to "Tower Height" for clarity.

Revised version that adds cross sections of cable.

Note: Originally entitled "Suspension Cable Size..." this was later corrected to "Cable Tension..."

Close-up view of current exhibit (showing instruction panel).


Funding for the project has been provided by the Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings, National Science Foundation. Dr. Al DeSena is the NSF project officer for this award. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

All images are the property of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District and cannot be re-used without its permission. Contact Mary Currie, Public Affairs Director,

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Consortium of Universities for Research in Earthquake Engineering
last updated 05.27.14