Robert Maillart was born in Berne, Switzerland in 1872. He attended the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. Maillart did not excel in academic theories, but understood the necessity to make assumptions and visualize when analyzing a structure. A traditional method prior to the 1900s was to use shapes that could be analyzed easily using mathematics. While Francois Hennebique of France along with G.A. Wayss of Germany are given the credit for the development of reinforced concrete in bridges, it is Robert Maillart who developed concrete as a new material with its own specific strengths and weaknesses. In addition he developed designs for concrete independent of other materials such as timber.
Maillart worked as an assistant to Hennebique and in 1898 designed and built his first bridge at Stauffacher over the River Shil. His designs rapidly evolved as can be seen with the Tavansa Bridge (1901) with its slender design and cutouts at the abutments. This further evolved into his most well known bridge, the Salginatobel Bridge (1930) near Schiers in Switzerland. The location, in a spectacular gorge in the Alps with a span of 90m (295 ft) and an inclination of 1 in 34, is particularly impressive. There is no apparent abutment and the arch splays in plan. He further expanded the arch span to 123m (403 ft) with the construction of the Schwandbach Bridge in 1933.
The majority of his bridges are still in use today and Maillart is seen as the master of modern concrete arch bridge engineering and continues to be a major influence on modern-day bridge designers.