02 April 2013

London Bridges: 30. Olympic Park Footbridge

London’s Olympic Park is home to a number of interesting bridges. Several were not easily accessible to the general public when the Olympics were in progress, but hopefully will become so once the Park’s redevelopment is complete.

I’ve previously covered one which was very accessible, the Stratford Town Centre link bridge. I’ve also discussed the results of the design competition which was held for the Park’s centrepiece bridge, a super-wide structure which had to accommodate massive crowds during the games. It was a difficult challenge, as the same bridge had to be easily modified to suit the smaller number of users of the park after the games had ended. The contest attracted several high-profile designers, and the visualisations of the winning design (like the one shown here on the right) made it look like an excellent choice.

I visited this bridge during the Paralympics in 2012, and found it hugely disappointing. From above, you would barely know that a bridge existed at all, it is so wide (55m), something that readily illustrates how misleading the birds-eye views used in visualisations can be (see image, left). That’s not necessarily a bad thing in its own right, but it made me wonder how necessary the design competition really was.

From below, the bridge was a mess. In its post-games configuration, a large area of central temporary decking will be removed, leaving two separate 26m long walkways. Each of these will be a sleek form in stainless steel, slightly amorphous in a Terminator 2 style. In practice, the stainless steel cladding is not quite as regular as it needs to be to deliver this vision, nor as clean. It looks like what it is – a conventional bridge wrapped in cladding, and it’s a let-down.

The temporary decking provided welcome shelter from the rain to several visitors while I was there, but is ugly and oppressive. It’s a shame that a little more money wasn’t found to cover over the underside.

In combination with the evident cheapness of the gabion-basket walls at either end of the bridge, the overall impression is dismal. The design competition delivered a bridge which fulfils its carrying function well, but is visually unprepossessing. It will be interesting to see, if and when the temporary infill deck is ever removed, whether the twin-walkway arrangement is more successful.

There seems some doubt as to when the temporary deck will actually be removed. The original intention was for it to be taken out this year, as part of the general Olympic Park transformation following completion of the games. However, a report in the Architects Journal suggests it will stay in place at least until the World Athletics Championships in 2017.

Further information:

1 comment:

Imre (ilaufer(at)mail-bme-hu) said...

Looking at the renderings and the pictures, the usual "cheats" come up once again, in a very striking manner:
Apart of the bird's eye perspective the users never see, you always get bright lights in the renderings, e.g. a sunset sky, fireworks, or night renderings with floodlights. The glowing temporary decking is very attractive in the rendering, but as the photograph shows, it looks rather like a childs' rubber playmat at daylight. It's interesting that people in the competition jurys - among them experienced architects, urban designers, etc. - usually get fooled by such rendering tricks.

I think it was a bad decision to make the stainless steel cladding inlined, as it makes the bridge look even more heavy. The span-to-depth ratio resembles much more that of an early plate-girder railway bridge, rather than a modern pedestrian bridge. Inclining the face makes it look even more longer from a low viewing angle. (Perhaps the structure indeed needs to be that deep to support the temporary decking.) To make the the surface shiny and reflective in order to make it look "lighter" is a "knife with two edges". This way the bumps on the surface and the not-so-well-fitting edges become the striking features from near, once the viewer gets tired of playing with the reflections.

I find the idea of using gabion-baskets as the abutment face is not a bad idea, as it does not lend itself well for graffitis. On the other hand, "imprisoning" the lights do make it look cheap. But the state of the weir beneath is in my opinion the most disappointing - it looks like a derelict from the early 20th century.

It is said that the temporary decking would stay in place until 2017. But there are 4 more years to pass until then - why not remove the temporary part now, and put it back then?