Earth & Conservation

Fantastic 'Disappearing' Bridges Planned for China

Optical illusion foot bridges and pavilions will adorn the sandstone pillars of Zhangjiajie in China.

<p>Martin Duplantier Architectes<span></span></p>

Highest, longest, scariest - bridges going up in the Chinese wilderness are breaking all kinds of records. Soon we can add most mind-bendingly surreal to that list.

French architect Martin Duplantier's firm designed a series of optical illusion foot bridges and pavilions to carry visitors around the rising sandstone pillars of Zhangjiajie in Hunan Province, China. The structures will practically disappear, making tourists seem like they're floating in space.

Recently Martin Duplantier Architectes won first place in a design competition for a new route the area, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If the natural panoramas there look fantastically computer-generated, that's not surprising. Zhangjiajie was apparently the inspiration for Pandora in the movie "Avatar."

The winning submission calls for three pavilions and several foot bridges that span the towering sandstone rocks. They will be built using reflective stainless steel and black stone flooring to maximize the illusion for visitors that they are walking on air.

"Contrasting with a complex landscape, the footbridges are of pure geometric shapes, which seem to have been placed delicately on the carved relief of the site," the architectural firm said in a press release about the designs.

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One bridge will have two levels. Another has an elliptical disk shape and an off-centered hole that "leaves open views into the gap between the two rock faces," according to the architect's description. "A strong net allows courageous visitors to lay down in the void." Um, yeah. I'll pass on that.

The reflective pavilions are particularly intriguing. Each of the three will be built on different levels. The top roof-level terrace promises 360-degree panoramas, the middle calls for a cafe and at the bottom will be an "exclusive VIP suite" where visitors can stay overnight. In addition, a separate "water mirror" pathway made from black stone intermittently sprayed with water will deepen the walking-on-air sensation. Sounds slick.

Martin Duplantier Architectes and their client ZTG haven't announced a timeline for construction to start on the structures yet, but the cost will be around $5.3 million, according to architect's project page. When the structures are all finished, the area will probably feel even more dreamlike. Better keep a firm grip on the railing.

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