Print this page Print this page

Sydney Harbor Bridge: The Giant Coat Hanger

J.M. Syken

Course Outline

In this course, we will examine the background and events leading up to the design, construction and completion of the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. To fully understand and appreciate the edifice, we’ll examine the 19th century roots of the bridge, competitions held (starting in 1900) to select a suitable design for the bridge as well as the political, economic and social atmosphere by which the bridge was conceived, designed and, ultimately built.

Furthermore, we will examine in-depth and detail the engineering and architecture involved in designing the bridge as well as the construction methods, materials and systems utilized. Also, we will examine the alterations made to the bridge since its opening on March 19, 1932 and how the bridge has adapted itself to modern traffic needs. As well, we will consider the lasting legacy of one of the world’s most recognizable and greatest bridges’.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

Learning Objective

At the conclusion of this course, the student will:

Intended Audience

This course is intended for architects, engineers, contractors and other design/construction professionals.

Benefit to Attendees

The attendee/s will gain an intimate knowledge and insight into the creation of one of the world’s greatest edifices: The Sydney Harbor Bridge

Course Introduction

In the post-WWI era, several factors came together to make a bridge connecting the north and south shores of Sydney Harbor a priority, not an option. Had it not been for the outbreak of WWI in August 1914, JJC Bradfield’s 1909 design for a cantilever bridge (spanning the distance between Dawes Point - on the south shore, and Milsons Point - on the north shore) would probably would have been built. With Australia – England’s most loyal colony, devoted to the war effort the bridge and all other major construction projects would have to wait. Labor and material necessary to build such a great structure was simply not available until well after the war ended. Another factor was the rise of the automobile and truck to prominence in the 1920s. To get people and goods to where they needed to go, proper roads and bridges were mandatory. Perhaps most important to the everyday lives of the thousands of people involved the bridge provided employment at a time when there was simply no work to be found. Much of the “heavy” work of erecting the great arch was performed in the early 1930s, when the great depression was at or near its height. So important was this economic lifeline to the many WWI veterans working on the bridge and their families, they referred to the bridge as “The Iron Lung.”

Course Content

In this course, you are required to view/study the following slideshow and the materials contained in the web pages:

Sydney Harbor Bridge: The Giant Coat Hanger (printable handout in PDF, 9 MB, see Note A below for downloading instruction)
Sydney Harbor Bridge: The Giant Coat Hanger (non-printable slideshow for screen-viewing only, 28 MB, see Note A below for downloading instruction)

The Construction of Sydney Harbour Bridge (Video)
Sydney's Harbour Bridge (Video)

Note A: Please click on the above underlined hypertext to view, download or print the document for your study. Because of the large file size, we recommend that you first save the file to your computer by right-clicking the mouse and choosing "Save Target As ...", and then open the file in Adobe Acrobat Reader from your computer.

Course Summary

Like the Eiffel Tower is to a Parisian and/or the Statue of Liberty is to a New Yorker, The Sydney Harbor Bridge embodies more than just a utilitarian means by which “Sydneysiders” can get from one shore to the other. It was a symbol of Australia taking its rightful place as one of the great nations of the world. Australia and its first city – Sydney, would no longer be looked upon as a backwater colony whose inhabitants were descended from convicts. In the minds of many, the Harbor Bridge (and nearby Opera House) are the most identifiable images associated with Australia and the pride of a nation. It cost 3x what it was supposed to and long-term loans were necessary to see the bridge through to completion. Sadly, it was built at a time when worker safety was not a priority and the lives of sixteen bridge workers was the price paid, in human terms, to achieve greatness.

Related Links

For additional technical information related to this subject, please visit the following websites:

Report on Tenders
Sydney Harbour Bridge
(Film - Constructing Australia - The Bridge (2007) - 54:35)
(Film: World's Most Extreme Bridges - 52:06)


Once you finish studying the above course content, you need to take a quiz to obtain the PDH credits.

DISCLAIMER: The materials contained in the online course are not intended as a representation or warranty on the part of PDH Center or any other person/organization named herein. The materials are for general information only. They are not a substitute for competent professional advice. Application of this information to a specific project should be reviewed by a registered architect and/or professional engineer/surveyor. Anyone making use of the information set forth herein does so at their own risk and assumes any and all resulting liability arising therefrom.