Editor’s note: The Trivia Geek has been called away to work on some secret TechRepublic development projects (or so he claims). To tide you over—and get you geared up for the May 19 U.S. release of the movie version of The Da Vinci Code—we’ve pulled this Classic Geek, which originally ran Feb. 4, 2004, from our archives.

The genius of Leonardo da Vinci is virtually above reproach, with his work in painting, sculpture, science, and invention presaging techniques and discoveries that wouldn’t become common knowledge for years or even centuries after his death in 1519. The artistic talent behind the “Mona Lisa” and “The Last Supper” was also the mind behind the earliest technical drawings for helicopters and automobiles, thus proving that da Vinci is the true basis for the term Renaissance Man.

Yet, for all his accomplishments and the legendary reputation he earned in his own lifetime and beyond, many often overlook da Vinci in one of his most accomplished fields of endeavor: architecture. Many of da Vinci’s designs were quite daring, never taking into account the difficulty of constructing his geometrically plausible but technically impractical ideas, and he never saw any of his own architectural designs built during his lifetime.

There is perhaps no better example of this than da Vinci’s plan for an idealized Milan, which included a dual-level architecture to separate surface-level commercial traffic from upper-level living space, as well as a complex system of canals to serve as an urban sewage disposal system. While these designs were entirely feasible given Renaissance-era Italian technology, the design would have required the wholesale demolition and reconstruction of Milan—revolutionary, but not realistic.

Instead, da Vinci’s ideas found their way into the building plans of others. Most famously, many consider da Vinci’s “centralized” plans for cathedral architecture the basis for Donato Bramante’s design of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City (although Michelangelo rightfully gets credit for designing the dome on the Basilica). It’s a tribute to Leonardo’s architectural talents, to be sure, but it’s not quite the same as having your own designs realized.

In fact, it took almost 500 years for someone to actually build something explicitly based on one of da Vinci’s designs. To date, this project stands as the only one of the Renaissance Man’s architectural plans ever built.


What contemporary architectural project represents the only design in the world based explicitly on plans drafted by Leonardo da Vinci—a structure that went unconstructed until nearly 500 years after he conceived it?

The project in question is the aptly named Leonardo Bridge Project in an Oslo suburb in Norway, which opened to the public on Oct. 31, 2001, and for which da Vinci completed the design in 1502. Moreover, da Vinci’s plans called for a much larger bridge, made of different material, to span a river, not a road, in modern-day Turkey, not Norway. Despite all that, however, Leonardo’s triple-arch design remains relatively unchanged between his 16th-century plans and its 21st-century incarnation.

The original bridge plan called for a massive, 240-meter-wide stone structure that would span the Golden Horn inlet of the Bosphorus River in present-day Istanbul. Commissioned by the Sultan Bajazet II of Constantinople, engineers of the day deemed da Vinci’s design impossible to construct.

Thus, the geometrically simple and sleek design of three sliced-disk arches supporting a sloped walkway went unrealized for centuries, until Norwegian artist Vebjorn Sand revisited it. Based on computer renderings of da Vinci’s own sketches, the modern version of the bridge features a mere 100-meter span and features a decidedly more modern material than stone: chemically laminated wood.

While the design has proven totally viable for its current purpose as a pedestrian crossing, it’s unlikely that a more “faithful” concrete or even steel version of the bridge will carry cars in the near future. It seems that not even a genius of da Vinci’s caliber could have anticipated the unique stresses of traffic vibration, with which, according to computer models, the bridge design cannot easily cope. Thus, even the original Renaissance Man has no simple answer for gridlock.

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The Quibble of the Week

If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of this week’s Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article. Every week, yours truly will choose the best post from the assembled masses and discuss it in the next edition of Geek Trivia. (To see the original quibble from this article, see Listing A.)

This week’s quibble comes from the May 3 edition of Geek Trivia, “A syncing feeling.” TechRepublic member Psomerset busted me for invoking the wrong principle of electromagnetic communications physics.

“GPS does not work based on Doppler shift. . . GPS works by measuring the time delay between the [satellite] transmitting its signal and the reception of that signal. It’s not a pulsed system; a pseudo-random number (PRN) sequence is transmitted.

“A time difference for one satellite would define a sphere in space of points that distance away from the satellite. That sphere intersects the earth in a circle. More satellites provide more circles, and they should converge at only one point on or near the surface. (It works in planes, too.)

“If they don’t, then the receiver’s estimate of the correct time is in error. By adjusting the time estimate, the convergence polygon can be made to collapse to a point. As a result, you get not only latitude and longitude—you also get altitude; north-south, east-west and vertical velocities and time.”

Everybody got that? Great quibble, so keep ’em coming!

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The Trivia Geek, also known as Jay Garmon, is a former advertising copywriter and Web developer who’s duped TechRepublic into underwriting his affinity for movies, sci-fi, comic books, technology, and all things geekish or subcultural.