The finals of the very successful annual BKS-SAICE International Bridge Building Competition organised by the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) were held at St Albans College in Pretoria. AECOM, formerly BKS, has once again provided the major sponsorship for the event – for the fifth year running! RiChem provided the glue for the competition.

This exciting competition attracts the participation of approximately 600 schools countrywide, as well as from Namibia. The finalists from all the regions, organised by the SAICE Branches countrywide, then compete for the much sought-after shield,and the cash prize for team members and their schools. This year’s finalists, apart from the local teams, came from as far afield as Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Dendron, Durban, East London, Empangeni, Flagstaff, Harrismith, Kimberley, Mahikeng, Middelburg, Pietermaritzburg, Port Elizabeth, Richard Bay, Uitenhage, and Upington, as well as Walvis Bay in Namibia.

For the following teams to be the winners, aspects such as aesthetics, the mass of the bridge and ultimately the weight-bearing capacity determined the winning bridges. The 2013 champion bridge builders are a Johannesburg team consisting of three learners, all of whom are home-schooled. They are Jordan and Mitchell McQueen and Gabriel Bechard.  Their bridge came up trumps and their final point was 274.8. The second prize went to the team from Domino Servite High School near Pietermaritzburg. The team members were Iliya Matveyuk, Petrus Fourie and Joseph Grobler with a total of 245.3 points. In the third spot was Harriston High School from Harrismith with team members Marcus Nouwens, Alrich Jacobs and Leopold Beuken with their bridge getting a final point of 211.

On the Saturday the teams visited the Nelson Mandela Bridge to learn more about this landmark in Johannesburg from civil engineering professional at AECOM, Zaan-Marie Vivier.

On the day …

An informative presentation by a civil (bridge) engineer on the stresses and strains to be taken into account when designing a bridge precedes the action. This year Mauritz Opperman from AECOM’s Bridges Department had the honour of doing this presentation. Each team consists of three learners – usually from Grade 9 to 12. The bridge building kits contain 25 sticks of 3 mm nominal thickness, RiChem glue and a little string. Construction is done according to a technical briefing given on the day. The teams then get down to the gruelling business of planning, designing, measuring, cutting dowel sticks and constructing the bridges by gluing everything together to form sturdy bridge structures, while racing against the clock towards tools-down time!

The meticulously constructed bridges are then left to dry. The adjudicators complete their task regarding the aesthetics and weight of the bridges. The teams, after having exchanged daytime T-shirts and tracksuits for school uniforms, gather in the auditorium for an evening of nerve-racking testing of their bridges. Excitement mounts, hopes soar and some dreams are shattered as one team after the other bring their bridges forward for testing on the rigg. Each and every bridge is tested to destruction to ascertain its weight-bearing capability.


The South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) initiated the bridge building competition in 1991 to further high school learners’ use of Mathematics and Science in an engineering context, thereby endeavouring to grow the profession. It has since become an enormous success and is enjoyed by all. The bridge building competition forms an integral part of some schools’ activities and is recognised on the same level as academic or sports achievements. In some schools it has been incorporated as part of their curriculum.

Because of its practical and hands-on nature, this event is still SAICE’s most successful initiative in attracting learners to civil engineering, as well as promoting a general awareness of the profession. The competition provides an ideal career guidance opportunity. The camaraderie that develops among the various competing teams during their stay, gives learners the opportunity to also build bridges between people, cultures and countries!

There is little doubt that the annual bridge building competition has, since its inception, captured the imagination of learners and teachers who continue returning for more every year!

Although there can only be one winner, all these learners benefit by taking part and being able to visit a big city such as Pretoria. Getting to meet other people and learners from all the corners of South Africa, as well as Namibia, is an added advantage, all of which is only possible through the generosity of the major sponsor, AECOM, and the sponsor of the glue, RiChem.

This initiative, in support of government’s objective to address the scarce skills situation in South Africa, has since its inception, captured the imagination of learners and has led to many learners choosing civil engineering as a career!

BB Winners Home schoolers JHB Gabriel Bechand Jordan McQueen Mitchel McQueen

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