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Gulp: The World’s Highest, Longest Glass Bridge Opens in China

The new bridge in Hunan’s Zhangjiajie Forest Park overlooks the mountains that inspired Avatar

The newly opened glass bridge in Zhangjiajie Forest Park (Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Tourism Management Company)
smithsonian.com

Over the weekend, the world’s highest and longest glass-bottomed bridge opened in Zhangjiajie Forest Park in China’s Hunan province, Merrit Kennedy reports for NPR

The 1,400-foot span stretches from cliff to cliff over the 984-foot Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon, testing the resolve of up to 8,000 visitors each day. Those daring enough to cross the 99-panes of triple-layered glass will need to book the $20 tickets a day in advance, the Agence France-Presse reports. Stiletto heels are not allowed. 

The bridge builders have gone to great lengths to assure the public that the $3.2 million project is safe. In October 2015, just a couple weeks after opening, panes on another glass walkway around a cliff in Yuntaishan cracked when a visitor dropped a steel travel mug, sparking concern in the general public about similar structures. So this past June, the builders of the Zhangjiajie bridge hosted a media event to demonstrate the bridge's safety. They invited 20 people with sledgehammers to bash the top panels of glass. Then a two-ton Volvo SUV carrying 11 people rolled over the bridge, reports Victoria Ho for Mashable. The hammers cracked the top panes, but the bridge held.

There’s been something of a glass bridge and walkway craze in China for the last couple years. Besides Zhangjiajie and Yuntaishan, the 984-foot long, 590-foot tall Haohan Qiao or Brave Man’s Bridge opened last September in Shiniuzhai National Geological Park. Just this month, a couple got married on the bridge then took some gut-twisting reception photos dangling off the structure. Another smaller glass walkway is part of 1.8-mile trail that follows the cliffs on Tianmen Mountain, also in Hunan.

Keith Brownlie, an architect who helped design a glass bridge at the London Science Museum tells Heather Chen at the BBC that the bridges are about producing a thrill. “It is the relationship between emotionally driven fear and the logical understanding of safety,” he says. “These structures tread the boundary between those two contrasting senses and people like to challenge their rational mind in relation to their irrational fear.”

Despite the national obsession with glass walkways, the new Zhangjiajie bridge was not originally intended to be clear. According to Liz Stinson at Wired, Israeli architect Haim Dotan was approached about building a conventional bridge in the park, which inspired some of the scenery in the movie Avatar. Dotan said he’d do it on one condition: the bridge must not interfere with the beautiful surroundings. So they began working on a glass bridge. It took about three years to design the structure, which can withstand 100 mile per hour winds. Eventually, bungee jumping will also be allowed from the span.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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