The refreshing tandem: the works of the engineer Laurent Ney perceived by the visual artist Toshio Shibata

What happens when an artist photographs the works of a master designer and builder? The recently published book Toshio SHIBATA / Laurent NEY shows how the photographer Shibata sees the work of Ney, not for its engineering logic but for its inherent poetry. In this book Ney generously shares with us his views on bridge design alongside the visual artistic perspective of  Shibata.  A most unexpected and refreshing tandem.  We are grateful for this blog text which is the introduction to  the book, published with author’s permission. The book  further showcases hundred photographs of the work by Laurent Ney taken by the Japanese artist Toshio Shibata and can be purchased through this link.


From Toshio SHIBATA / Laurent NEY – (August 19, 2016). Publisher: MER. Paper Kunsthalle.


The design of a bridge starts with the context, a context that includes more than just the physical context of the site, its natural surroundings and landscape. A context in its broadest sense takes in historical, technological, industrial, economic, ecological and procedural considerations, all of which are subject to material and procedural constraints, which the project’s author must respect or, better still, transcend.

The work itself, the creative act, is the projection of the imagined object into the future context of the site. The insertion of this object will of course change the context of the site, as the object becomes part of the place, it becomes a place in itself, it becomes context.  The context or the landscape finds itself altered by this insertion, its reading is modified. One can ask oneself if this reading has been improved or not by it, but of course there is no definitive answer to this question, it is eminently subjective. This is where an outsider’s view, such as that of artist-photographer Toshio Shibata, can reveal a denser reality that can be read on various levels.

De Lichtenlijn Footbridge, Knokke, BE ©Toshio Shibata for Laurent Ney, Design©Laurent Ney

There are a number of different things that I hold to be especially important in the design of a bridge:


A bridge or a footbridge is an object that needs to work visually on a variety of scales. Firstly on an urban scale or within a landscape, where the observer reads the bridge in its entirety – a several hundred meter long sculpture in the foreground of a vista.  Next, at the scale of the user, the pedestrian, whose viewpoint evolves, who will touch the bridge’s materials, and who discovers the bridge via a shortened perspective of the journey in front of him. The bridge is no longer a simple linear extension of a route, but material, detail and viewpoint. It also becomes a place of passage, with all the associated symbolism of travelling from one side to the other, from one world to another. The pedestrian or the cyclist experiences the crossing as a passage across the void, no longer on solid ground, a space between the earth and the sky.

‘t Groentje Bicycle Bridge, Nijmegen, NL©Toshio Shibata for Laurent Ney, Design©Laurent Ney


A bridge links one bank to another, links people together, links the past to the future, a bridge has all the promise of a new world. The bridge’s spatiality is obvious, its place in time less so. I have always wanted to design with time, with the influence of time, its patina, its deterioration. A bridge that accepts time and alteration, or better still that uses time to transform it in a subtle way and to create a new way of perceiving it. I also wanted to show this slow return to nature, this fragile balance of stresses in a bridge, this potentially unstable stability, this retarded entropy – time, not as a problem but as a way of revealing other possible realities.

Vroenhoven Bridge, Riemst, BE©Toshio Shibata for Laurent Ney, Design©Laurent Ney


Space can be described through its materiality and its geometry. It is therefore natural that we would use these two guides in designing our bridges. An object is defined geometrically, exactly, and numerically. Mastering an object construction is about mastering its spatial description and, implicitly, its structure. Mathematics, physics, statics and natural phenomena come together, feed one another and transcend themselves in a built object.

Smedenpoort Footbridges, Brugge, BE©Toshio Shibata for Laurent Ney, Design©Laurent Ney


The other fundamental of a place is materiality; the bridge is built of materials that will lend their logic to the project. This materiality directly confronts the existing environment and its material make-up. Difference, resemblance, continuity or a clean break? The history of a built place is also the story history of its materiality.

De Oversteek Citybridge, Nijmegen, NL©Toshio Shibata for Laurent Ney, Design©Laurent Ney

Poetry and symbolism

We strive to condense, concentrate and integrate our designs, removing the superfluous and concentrating on the essentials. However, this ‘simplification’ demands an increasingly complex process of analysis if we are to achieve the desired formal purity. Giving meaning, or better allowing the object to bear the meanings that people project onto it – a minimal object as a support for poetry.

In Toshio Shibata’s work I recognise the principal themes that are at the root of the design of my bridges: space, time, geometry, materiality, poetry…

There are similarities but there are also differences. A project’s author is a projector, he projects his thoughts into the future, he is at one end of the process. The artist-photographer is at the other end of the process; the object is completed, in its context, animated by the light. Light which ‘brings it to life’ and which, through a photographer’s eyes, allows us to see details that cannot be formulated, neither in plans, nor in figures, nor in words.

Laurent Ney

Esch-sur-Alzette Footbridge, LUX ©Toshio Shibata for Laurent Ney, Design©Laurent Ney
Vluchthaven Bridge, IJDock, Amsterdam, NL ©Toshio Shibata for Laurent Ney, Design©Laurent Ney
Vroenhoven Bridge 2, Riemst, BE ©Toshio Shibata for Laurent Ney, Design©Laurent Ney


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