30 September 2009

St Patrick's Island Bridge Competition entries: Part 5

Right, this will hopefully be the last post on the Calgary footbridge contest for now; I'm sure everyone's heard more than enough about it by now!

The competition's client, Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC), say they plan at the end of October to shortlist an unknown number of entrants to go forward to the competition's next stage. Each of the shortlisted designers will receive a "modest stipend" to develop their design further (whatever that is).

So who would I shortlist? In no particular order (links are provided to the CMLC site as well as my own reviews):
  • Rogers Stirk Harbour / Halcrow Yolles (THP / CMLC)
  • Busby Perkins and Will / Fast and Epp (THP / CMLC)
  • Arup / Falco Schmitt (THP / CMLC)
  • Read Jones Christoffersen et al (THP / CMLC)
  • RFR / Halsall (THP / CMLC)
  • Erhard Kargel / Abes Wagner (THP / CMLC)

Some of those have their problems, but the first stage should be to select interesting and appropriate concepts, the second stage of the contest gives scope to see if each team can address them satisfactorily.

Who do I think will actually get shortlisted?

  • Rogers Stirk Harbour / Halcrow Yolles (THP / CMLC)
  • Infinity Engineering (THP / CMLC)
  • SPF:a / Arup (Glide) (THP / CMLC)
  • Marc Boutin (THP / CMLC)
  • Halcrow Yolles (The Reach) (THP / CMLC)
  • Read Jones Christoffersen et al (THP / CMLC)

Why the difference? I think public opinion will play a large part, which will get in one of the ideas that has little real structural logic to it (either The Reach, or the similar Arup / Kasian design). This will be balanced against the need for the design to be attractive to potential East Village developers, which will favour the inappropriately spectacular (this may of course be the same thing).

I also think they'll try and get through some of the interesting but flawed entries (Glide and the Infinity Engineering one) to see if the design teams can put right the flaws at the next stage. I think they'll want a few safe pairs of hands in there (Rogers, Arup etc). And I'd be surprised if there's no local firm on the shortlist, which puts the Marc Boutin, The Reach, Read Jones Christofferson and the various Halcrow Yolles entries in with a good chance.

How has the competition compared to other similar contests? For an open competition, I'm really surprised how few amateur or student entries have been attracted, and how many entries were submitted from really major architectural and engineering firms. If you compare pretty much any of the UK bridge design competitions with a similar open arrangement in recent years (Liverpool, River Douglas, Sheffield, Bootle, New Islington) the big names frequently shy away (due to the perceived poor ratio of cost to probability of success) and there's a lot of dross submitted. I'd be really interested in opinions as to why the Calgary contest has attracted such high-calibre talent - is it basically the CAN$25m budget, and the opportunities that creates?

How has it compared to the Peace Bridge appointment and design, a lurid red tubular truss which was sole-sourced to Santiago Calatrava? I think it compares very well - locals have had their fair chance (and no doubt learned a lot in the process of competing); public involvement is welcomed rather than shunned; a wide range of concepts have been generated possessing varying degrees of common sense and extravagance; and it has created a useful public forum for debate on design, which can hopefully only be good in raising awareness of the opportunities a signature bridge creates.

It hasn't been without its flaws: the competition rules and judging process remain entirely opaque and hence open to manipulation; and the public involvement is perhaps misjudged (how many online commenters are actually from Calgary, and how many are influenced by being able to see previous comments?)

But by far the major improvement over the Peace Bridge saga is the openness to competition, the acceptance that quality design doesn't have to come from the only name anyone's heard of, any more than every film must be directed by Stephen Spielberg. For that at least, well done Calgary.


Anonymous said...


Appreciate the reviews. Looking at the predicted CMLC shortlist:

Which entry will require least materials?

Can you rate them in order of construction cost?

Can you predict the ultimate winner?


The Happy Pontist said...

I wouldn't want to predict a winner without seeing how they each respond to the next stage. It's also hard enough guessing a shortlist given that the client hasn't specified any criteria for their decision!

Very hard to say which would use least materials. Possibly the Infinity design depending on the size of foundations required, although the Rogers / Halcrow design could also be relatively light (no large horizontal loads on the foundations).

Least construction cost would be equally hard to say, but again the Rogers design could be quite affordable. I would guess The Reach or Infinity to be the most expensive because respectively of the irregular geometry and the expense of assembling, erecting and tensioning the cable net. I'd think they're all capable of being built within a $25m budget, though.

charles said...

Thanks for your thorough reviews, very enjoyable and I'm learning a lot.