Another week, another high-profile pedestrian bridge competition

This one comes from the misty, majestic coast of Cornwall, England, where one of Great Britain’s most legendary — and legendarily daunting to access — historic sites is being treated to a tourist-friendly infrastructure makeover that promises to be more palatable (read: less rickety and stair-heavy) but no less dramatic (read: still a bit scary) than the current option.

For many less-than-surefooted visitors to Tintagel Castle — the crumbling ruins of a peninsula-bound 13th century fortification where, according to popular legend, none other than King Arthur himself was conceived — reaching the site itself can be a touch precarious. The chasm-spanning wooden footbridge that currently leads to the castle, a hugely popular tourist destination since the 19th century, was built in the mid-1970s. Since then, thousands upon thousands of visitors traverse this modest span each year while also descending and ascending a series of steep, narrow wooden staircases built into the sloping coastal landscape.

That said, many enjoy the robust physical challenge that comes along with a visit to Tintagel. For others, however, it’s a lot of work. And for those with physical limitations and for anyone who might shy away from a historical site accessed by a walk that can be described as “vertiginous,” “stomach-churning” or “involving hundreds of steps,” Tintagel Castle is a no-go.

English Heritage, the charity that manages Tintagel along with over 400 high-traffic historic building and sites, is very much aware of the formidable journey involved with reaching one of England’s most famous medieval ruins.

Tintagel Castle, Cornwall, England The current footbridge/stair situation at Tintagel Castle. (Photo: Robert Linsdell/flickr)

And so, the organization has launched an international design competition seeking proposals for a new footbridge — “a bridge that is of its place, a bridge that, with its structural elegance and beauty, is in harmony with its extraordinary setting and landscape” — to replace both the existing bride while still managing to quicken the pulse of visitors.

Essentially, English Heritage is looking for a low-maintenance yet innovative landmark bridge that’s a tourist attraction within itself.

The bridge, which will soar over 90 feet above the current crossing and span nearly 240 feet, retraces the path of a narrow natural land bridge that eroded away into the Celtic Sea long ago. In turn, the new footbridge will allow visitors to more closely follow along the original, less stair-intensive approach to Tintagel.

Reads the competition brief, a brief calling for an “exemplary design, which is sensitively balanced with a landscape of national, historic and mystical significance:”

More than just a practical passage, it will offer exhilarating new viewpoints and be part of the integrated interpretative journey around the wider site and castle. While it is not expected to protect users from the weather, it should be safe to use in the normal range of climatic conditions – the site itself being closed during severe weather events.

Last week, a shortlist of six designs were revealed in the Tintagel Castle: Bridge Design Competition. These six finalists were culled from a total of 137 proposals submitted by architecture firms from 27 different countries.

Tintagel Castle, Cornwall, EnglandThe path to Tintagel Castle: Here's hoping that Merlin had the ability to conjure up sensible footwear. (Photo: Robert Linsdell/flickr)

Remarks architect and competition organizer Malcolm Reading in a news release issued by English Heritage: “Designing a bridge for such a challenging environment is a daunting test but these proposals haven’t compromised — they show a love of materials and engineering panache. The structure needs to say it all in a glance but it must also prove satisfying to use, economically-sound, practical to build, and have a healthy life-span.”

All six shortlisted footbridge designs are spectacular — and yes, a bit scary — in their own right. As required, all of them reverently nod to Tintagel's historical and cultural significance along and awe-inspiring landscape.

Mark Barfield Architects, the same London-based firm behind the London Eye and an under-construction observation tower in the seaside resort of Brighton that will be the tallest in the U.K., went as far to execute its bridge design as a sort of homage to King Arthur’s mighty sword, Excalibur. It’s appropriately called “Bronze Blade.”

One design, from Belgium-based Ney & Partners, also references the rich history of the site — and with quite terrifying effect. The design isn't even a proper bridge, but two cantilevered structures that almost, but not quite, meet in the middle, leaving a gap that must be carefully stepped/hopped over. “The narrow gap between them represents the transition between the mainland and the island, here and there, the present and the past, the known and the unknown, reality and legend: all the things that make Tintagel so special and fascinating,” write the architects.

The staircase at Tintagel Castle, Cornwall, England.Tintagel Castle: Come for the Arthurian legend and sweeping coastal landscape, stay for the high-impact aerobic workout. (Photo: jooliargh/flickr)

Through the end of this week, residents of Tintagel village and tourists alike will be able to view the proposals at the village's Tourist Information Centre as part of a special public-viewing exhibition. Visitors are encouraged to comment on the designs either on-site or via email. Public feedback will be collected and presented by English Heritage to the competition jury, a jury which will meet, presumably around a round table, to critique the shortlisted proposals in January.

The winning footbridge that best exemplifies "design at its most assured" will be announced in February.

Noting that one proposal “frightens me to death” while another “looks safer, and very spectacular too,” 80-year-old Mary Dyer, chairman of the Tintagel parish council, is enthusiastic for the arrival of a new bridge. With an estimated price tag of £4m (over $6 million), it should be ready to for Tintagel Castle’s over 200,000 annual visitors by 2019 provided it passes all regulatory hurdles.

Dyer tells the Guardian: “It will be wonderful. It’s really too difficult for people like me to get there. But I also see parents with young children struggling up and down those steps. The designs look so good that I’m sure the bridge will be an attraction in itself. It will bring more people, which can only be good for the village.”

Here’s a peek at each of the six shortlisted footbridge proposals, with a brief description for each:

Tintagel Bridge rendering, Marks Barfield ArchitectsRendering: Marks Barfield Architects

Mark Barfield Architects with Flint and Neill, J&L; Gibbons LLP, Mola (U.K.)

"The rugged, wild beauty of this rich yet fragile site calls for a robust and delicate response — a bridge that is elegant, efficient, exhilarating and rooted in this spectacular place imbued with mystery. The Bronze Blade is a beam bridge — the oldest and simplest of bridge structures. Contemporary technology enables us to take it to new levels of breath-taking slenderness. The material choice is inspired by the historical significance of the site’s mineral resources; bronze handrails on site and Arthurian legend — the sword Excalibur."

Tintagel Bridge rendering, Dietmar Feichtinger ArchitectesRendering: Dietmar Feichtinger Architectes

Dietmar Feichtinger Architetectes with Terrell (Austria/France)

"The new connection re-establishes the historic walkway to the island. Our proposal is a design that replaces the castle’s former wall and historical isthmus virtually, with cables crowned by a linear element — the link. A bowed steel girder is stressed into a horizontal position by stainless steel plates that are anchored in the slopes of the ravine. This structural principle is an inversion of the forces that one would expect for a structure of this kind."

Tintagel Bridge, RFRRendering: RFR/Jean-Francois Blassel Architecte

RFR and Jean-François Blassel Architecte with EngineersHRW and WSP (France)

"High above the waves, the stone arch bridge evokes the solidity of the ancient pathway and isthmus that once existed in its place. The narrowing form of the granite structure echoes the ‘choke point’, the ‘Din Tagell’, which gave the island its name. Through the use of natural stone, the bridge takes its place within Tintagel’s historical layers. It grows seamlessly from the cliffs, fitting naturally within this dramatic landscape."

TIntagel Bridge, Wilkinson EyreRendering: WilkinsonEyre

WilkinsonEyre with Atelier One (U.K.)

"WilkinsonEyre and Atelier One have designed a bridge, with uninterrupted space below, which emphasises a feeling of lightness and daring in a single span. Our modern, light touch intervention uses minimal foundations to recreate a connection over the narrow isthmus between the two parts of Tintagel Castle. It seeks not to compete with the historic remains, but rather serves to enhance the site’s dramatic nature while improving accessibility for all."

Tintagel Bridge, Niall McLaughlin ArchitectsRendering: Niall McLaughlin Architects

Niall McLaughlin Architects with Price & Myers (U.K.)

"The construction of a bridge linking mainland and island offers a spectacular opportunity to solve the problem of access and to celebrate the landscape. Our proposal makes this link in way that is simple, durable and reinforces the place’s drama: a stone arch of Cornish granite springs across the chasm, seemingly tethering the island to the mainland."

Tintagel Bridge, Ney PartnersRendering: Ney Partners

Ney & Partners with William Matthews Architects (Belgium)

"The Tintagel Castle footbridge is based on a simple concept: to recreate the link that once existed and filled the current void. Instead of introducing a third element that spans from side to side, we propose two independent cantilevers that reach out and touch, almost, in the middle. Visually, the link highlights the void through the absence of material in the middle of the crossing."

Via [The Guardian], [Designboom]

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.