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 spotlight: learning the ropes: MIT students build Incan-style bridges at Stata

  Home - MIT For many hundreds of years, fiber rope bridges provided a critical role for travel in the Andes. Today, Saturday, May 12th, MIT students in 3.094, Materials in Human Experience, are constructing a 60-foot suspension bridge across the Stata Moat, between the alumni pool and buildings 16 and 56.

Read Inca Leapt Canyons With Fiber Bridges from the New York Times.

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The name of the project, Chaka Stata, comes from Chaka, the Quechua word for bridge, and of course, MIT's Stata Center, designed by Frank Gehry. It is an all-fiber suspension bridge of the type the Inca built to ford deep ravines that punctuated the Khapaq Ñan - the royal road - built in the high and rugged Andean mountains between the city of Cusco, at the center of the Inca empire, and Quito, the empire's northern capital.

Chaka Stata is modeled closely after an Inca-style suspension bridge that continues to be built and renewed annually by the villagers of Huinchiri, a small community in the high Peruvian Andes SE of Cusco. The Huinchiri bridge cables are made entirely of local grass. Bundles of twigs lie across the foot cables to produce a firm pathway for pedestrian and animal traffic.

Bridge construction
The bridge is constructed from sisal fiber, produced in Mexico and purchased in 50 lb. spools that provided 50 miles of spun sisal twine. Students wove the bridge cables from three elements:
Element type Processing Number required
2-ply primary cord 2 lengths of 360 foot twine to make one 3/8 inch thick cord 192
primary cable twist together tightly 12 primary cords 16
final cable: foot path braid together 3 primary cables to a final length of 170 feet 4
final cable: hand rail ply together 2 primary cables: 170 feet 2

The Chaka Stata is constructed from 6 final cables. Four cables form the foot path; two cables form the hand rails. These cables are made from 192 primary cords.

Reed fencing covers the foot cables to provide the path. The Inca built bridge ramparts from mountain rock. Concrete blocks on one side of the Stata runoff moat and boulders on the opposite side serve as ramparts for the Chaka Stata.

About the class
Materials in Human Experience is designed and taught by faculty in MIT's Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Archaeological Materials program.

The 14 students who are building the Chaka Stata this semester include freshmen and upper class students: Cathlene Allard '07, Dan Arlow '07, Allison Brown '08, Alice Chang '10, Megan Firko '08, Andrea Hawksley '07, Zachary Jackowski '09, Luke Johnson '09, Willie Reese '10, Alex Pak '10, Katherine Ray '10, Shane Treadway '08, Darren Verploegen '08, Sarah Winston '11. This project is sponsored by MIT's Department of Materials Science and Engineering and by the AJ Welch Corporation of Brighton, Massachusetts.

Related links
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Flickr slideshow