How was water-based architecture like bridges, piers, docks & wharves built throughout history?

Oct 2017
America ??
On google I was expecting to find many images of historical water-based architectures like bridge, piers, docks & wharves, but surprisingly can’t find any.
Its easiest to envision water-based architecture being built with wood, which is probably how they started out; the simplest ways would probably be to simply stick wooden poles into the ground & mud & then connect them with wooden logs & boards using ropes, nails & glues, as with most early & primitive architectures in general, but it’s particularly difficult to envision how water-based architecture like the ones I described were built hard materials; stones & bricks, how people managed to get them to the water bottom. Could pillars have been prefabricated on land, but surely they would have been very heavy to carry & lift? I’m hoping to be as broad & inclusive as possible throughout the world & history, though I should mention that I’m particularly interested in pre-industrial history, since isn’t the industrial revolution considered the start of machine & the end of muscle power predominance?


Matthew Amt

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
Not sure I understand the question? Stones sink, after all. Drop them in, or lower on a rope, and have a diver shift them into place. No one was building out into really deep waters, after all. And if you're just building a dock or pier from the shore, just dump loads of earth/gravel/stone as you like, build the whole thing without getting your feet wet or needing any boat. For wooden posts, there is a good description of the pile drivers used by Caesar's army to bridge the Rhine, so that was a tried-and-true method already.


Matthew Amt

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
OH! I should add--the Roman harbor at Caesarea was built by pouring concrete under water, by the basketful. They knew that as long as they didn't allow the concrete to get stirred up and diluted while being placed, it would work just fine. And it did, since it's still there.

Mar 2019
For wooden posts, there is a good description of the pile drivers used by Caesar's army to bridge the Rhine, so that was a tried-and-true method already.

There was a very good documentary a few years ago where they tested how fast Caesar could have thrown that bridge up. Royal Engineers (using traditional techniques) took half a day to sink the first pylon. By the end of the third day they were setting a new pylon every 30 minutes, and thought experienced trained crews could have probably halved that time again.

And for the underwater concrete. It took us a long time to figure out how they did that, but seems to have been linked with the Romans mixing volcanic ash into their concrete before pouring.


Ad Honorem
Oct 2016
Water based 'architecture' . Water screw predating Archimedes ? ( Apparently one issue was the nomenclature of the device , it was not technical in describing components as those technical terms had not been developed yet , it was described in 'written metaphor ' :

VOL. 44
Some of the bronze castings were architectural items in the form of animals, probably used as column bases. It has been calculated that they weighed up to 43 tons, an enormous mass made possible by new castingmethods.
The items used to raise water are described as a “great tree trunk” ( gisˇmahhu), which is the word used for a cylinder (for example, in
mathematical problem texts), and as an alamittu palm tree. In fact, it is the molds that are described as being these two, separate items, not the casting itself, which Dalley interprets as a bronze water screw. The weight of such a bronze screw cannot be calculated with any accuracy, since length, diameter and thickness of metal are all unknown, but if we assume dimensions similar to those of wooden Roman water screws or the BBC reproductions (3 meters long, with a diameter of 0.45 meters), they would have weighed2 or 3 tons.
Dalley has proposed the hypothesis that the term alamittu was used metaphorically to indicate the spiraling helix of such a water screw.
The spiral form itself had been familiar to engineers in both northern and southern Mesopotamia since the Middle Bronze Age, and was used in mud-brick columns constructed of trapezoidal bricks laid in a decorative spiral pattern (fig. 2), some of them still visible in Sennacherib’s day.
In addition, some stone and terra-cotta sculptures show palms with a spiral-patternned trunk.
The difficulty of finding an appropriate technical term in the languages of preindustrial cultures is well illustrated by the Assyrian

usage of gis ˇmahhu,“ great tree-trunk,” for a hollow cylinder, and by the Greek use of kocliva~,“ snail,” for a spiral or helix. Nevertheless, the recognition that a helical form hidden inside a cylinder could be used to raise water is a significant conceptual leap. "