Compiled by Teresa Simon
Photography: Timothy Soar; courtesy McDowell+Benedetti
Pedestrians are accustomed to opening and closing of the bridges over the navigational River Hull in Yorkshire. Only instead of waiting, they can now ride on it as it opens and closes to river traffic; believed to be a world’s first.
The new circular black steel bridge has a distinctive robust character and curving form, making it a memorable landmark that is unique to Hull and its industrial and maritime heritage. Ferrying pedestrians and light vehicles across, it takes about two minutes to fully open and close.
Recipient of the World Architecture News Transport Award 2013 and the Civic Trust Award 2014, the innovative bridge is conceptualized and designed by UK architects McDowell+Benedetti and structural engineers Alan Baxter Associates. It forms an important connect between the Hull’s Old Town Conservation Area and the undeveloped industrial landscape of the east bank. Incidentally, the scheme includes a new landscaped garden and square designed by landscape architects Grontmij with lighting by Sutton Vane Associates and an integrated sonic public artwork by Nayan Kulkarni.
The bridge consists of a steel spine cantilevering around from a 3-dimensional braced ring structure approximately 16m in diameter. The ring or hub structure consists of columns connected to horizontal steel “wheel” structures forming both levels of the 3D ring. The circular hub section acts as a counterbalance to the cantilever section, with heavy RC slabs at both levels of the 3D ring structure. Braced frames provide stability. Steel plates clad the surface of the walkways, whilst horizontal bracing provides additional longitudinal stiffness.
The River Hull has a tidal range of almost 7 metres and has exposed mud banks on the Westside. The 16 metre diameter drum of the bridge sits snugly into the raised river bed on the west bank and cantilevers 35 metres over the water to the east side. The spine of the bridge arches up and over the river, allowing enough room for smaller boats to pass under without need to operate the bridge, and rotates using an electrical drive mechanism to open the route to river traffic, when required.
It’s sweeping form creates two generous pedestrian routes, one gently sloping and a shorter stepped walkway. The roof of the drum provides an upper viewing deck with a seamless steel balustrade, which gives the feeling of being on board a docked ocean liner.The central structural spine of the bridge includes seating areas, creating a variety of places for people to pause on route to relax and enjoy the river scape views. The spine rises into aback-lit roof-light, which provides a marker for the bridge at night.
The highlight is a sonic landscape by artist Nayan Kulkarni: when the bridge opening is activated, a new sequence of rhythmic bells is triggered, which increases in urgency and combines with a pulsing light developed by lighting consultants Sutton Vane Associates. This has a practical purpose in alerting pedestrians to the imminent opening rotation and heightens the drama of the ‘ride’. The drama subsides as it comes to a stop.