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Designing a new Peace Bridge that will span the Niagara River with beauty as well as commerce "is not an easy job," one of the world's top bridge builders said here Thursday during talks with architects and engineers.

T.Y. Lin, whose designs include a 55-mile bridge joining Alaska and Siberia and a 15-mile link across the Straits of Gibraltar, urged experts to combine the best of both form and function as they work together on major projects.

Major advances in construction materials and computer analysis now allow slender, delicate bridges of great strength and put greater creativity back into the bridge-building process, he added during meetings at the Sheraton Inn in Cheektowaga and the University at Buffalo South Campus.

"We have a chance," he said. "We really are living in a unique time."

While noting that the Buffalo-Fort Erie community will have to decide what to do for a second Peace Bridge, Lin urged the area to "make two designs and compare them."

Often, he added, creative solutions can not only triumph in beauty but also save money.

A veteran of more than 50 years of engineering bridges, Lin, 84, spoke here at the invitation of the UB Architecture School and the Western New York chapter of the Association for Bridge Construction and Design.

His speeches Thursday for groups of engineers and architects were followed by a public lecture today on "Creative Engineering of Bridges and Buildings" in the Center for the Arts on UB's North Campus in Amherst.

His visit comes as critics of a Peace Bridge Authority plan to build a second "twin" structure, parallel to the existing bridge but with more graceful arches, push
for a more dramatic border crossing and possible replacement, rather than twinning, of the bridge.

Efforts will focus on building the new bridge quickly, to meet the millennium and ease congestion at what has become a border choke point.

"There are a lot of people who see this bridge as a gateway to Western New York, and from Western New York to Canada," UB architecture dean Bruno Freschi said.

"Both countries (also) see this as a gateway, I think," he added. "It should be a monumental work of art."

"It would be nice to have a modern structure to complement our new arena downtown and our new airport," said Ronald J. Watson of R.J. Watson Structural and Civil Engineers at the Sheraton engineering session.

While concentrating on existing or proposed structures elsewhere in the world, Lin said the asymmetrical design of the 1920s Peace Bridge -- highest through a truss-supported section over the Black Rock Canal on the American side and sloping gently over arches to Canada -- poses aesthetic problems for a second span.

"It would be very difficult to twin that, because it's unique," he said.

The existing bridge, Freschi said, is "fairly mediocre, and I'm being very polite."

Lin's own work has won worldwide acclaim for innovation, through pioneering uses of prestressed concrete, prestressed steel and cable-stayed construction.

One of his bridges, never built because California voters rejected a dam that would have created the need for it, had no support piers at all but was suspended in a carefully crafted curve from cables anchored in the hillsides above.

The design not only won a top national architecture prize, Lin said, but it also saved millions of dollars by eliminating the need for two approach tunnels.

"Creativity pays," he said. "I would say, very seldom do we create something for creativity's sake."

Often, he said, "we could produce art from science, but we did not have art in mind."

His spans include both long, graceful prestressed arches known for their slenderness and scarcity of support braces and columns, and cable-stayed bridges that feature bridge decks "hung" from cables angling down from tall and sometimes slanted single support piers.

Cable-stayed structures are less common in America than in many other countries, where the style has flourished in recent decades. Recent U.S. examples include the Tampa Bay bridge built to replace one of two twinned bridges after a freighter collision and an Ohio River crossing at Huntington, W.Va.

Lin, a professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley, also has proposed and designed a Peace Bridge of his own -- the "Intercontinental Peace Bridge" that would cross the Bering Strait, carrying pipelines, trains and a highway between Alaska and Siberia.

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