01 March 2011

Bridge competition debris part 23: Poole Harbour Crossing: Commended

Okay, this will be my final roundup of the entries to this contest for now. These are the ones which were "Commended", not "Finalists", "Shortlisted", or "Highly Commended", but also not "also-rans". There are what feels like another 369 entries in the last category, but it will take me a while to get all those ready to post.

While scanning all these in, one thing that really struck me is how presentation standards have changed. The artist's impression was very much the norm when this competition was held in 1997, but it's hard to escape the thought that the skills are largely lost and that you'd be laughed at without computer visualisation today. In part, that's a good thing, as it allows the viewer to more rapidly understand from a variety of different perspectives how a structure is layed out in space. However, I wonder if it also induces a certain laziness in the viewer, who must be less inclined to apply their own imagination to interpreting the image, and hence more likely to be seduced by what they see rather than forming their own understanding.

Parkman / Carlos Fernandez Casado / Fairhurst Design Group

It's always a joy reading jury reports from bridge design competitions. With one breath they'll decry a design for lacking drama, and in the next, as with this bridge, advise that it's "perhaps not calm enough for a low-key mudflat site". That's not an unfair judgement - there's simply no pressing reason for the structural complications of this design at this site - but must leave competitors tearing their hair out wondering what the judges really wanted.

Whitby & Bird

This is a structurally logical modernisation of the traditional arch viaduct, but it doesn't really seem to work visually, particularly because I understand the V-shaped supports to be built in brick, which would be quite a challenge.

Render Palmer & Tritton / Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners

One of three entries by the same team. The other two were highly commended for their "elegant minimalism" (see previous post), but I prefer this one, a composite steel truss on trestle legs. It's fairly straightforward to build, structurally efficient, and can be made to look quite attractive.

Dorset Engineering Consultancy

Beaten by more stylish designs, this effort points up the perennial question of why exactly so many bridge clients are desperately seeking novelty. Sure, there's a need to draw attention to yourself, particularly for a small town trying to promote an exciting image in the hope it will trigger investment, but there's also a need to balance the budget.

Harris & Sutherland / Jean Muller International / Charles Lavigne

Another weird criticism from the judges - it "is not structurally explicit - is it acting as an arch or not?" Why the fear of structural androgyny? There are umpteen other truss arches around which seem quite happy acting as a bit of both. I don't think it's a beautiful design but the specific criticism seems unfair.

Harris & Sutherland / Jean Muller International / Charles Lavigne

Perhaps it's the very competition format which drives the desire for novelty. A number of logical, uncontrived cable-stay bridges were entered, which although inappropriate for a scheme where there was no need at all for long spans, were nonetheless modest, reasonable solutions. But after you've seen six or seven similar designs all of which reflect the engineering rationale, it's easy to imagine how the sheer repetition will encourage enthusiasm for the one design which is unusual, even where it has no need to be. In this respect, the design competition is inferior to optioneering via the traditional one-consultant feasibility study, where the various options would be treated more even-handedly.

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