There’s been plenty of eye-bulging and head-scratching in the days since London’s Wandsworth Council released an illustration attached to each of the 74 proposals that made it through to the first round of the Nine Elms to Pimlico Bridge Competition. Although tricky to get a truly good feel for some of these concepts for the British capital city's new Thames-spanning footbridge project — all listed anonymously at this stage per EU competition rules — from just a single rendering, many of the submissions appear to be lovely, elegant, understated. Some are somber, rather austere. (Submissions five and 39 both pique my interest although it's unclear why a horse makes an appearance in the second one).
Many are bonkers.
I first mentioned the Nine Elms to Pimlico Bridge Competition — an international "call for exceptional, inspiring designs for a new bridge at the centre of the world’s greatest city” — this past December in a post about the growing controversy over Garden Bridge, a Thames-spanning bridge-park hybrid conceived by “Absolutely Fabulous” actress/national treasure Joanna Lumley that’s looking to be much more of the latter: a gratuitous and incredibly expensive (roughly $275 million) tourist-snaring green space and not a work of public infrastructure that realistically meets the every day needs of Londoners.
Connecting the brownfield site-heavy Nine Elms district — home to a massive regeneration project (read: a small army of residential high-rises filled with million-dollar luxury apartments) around Battersea Power Station that’s quickly altering the gritty industrial character of the area — with the more staid north bank neighborhood of Pimlico, the new bridge, unlike Garden Bridge, will welcome both pedestrians and cyclists. Accessible 24/7, it will function like a proper footbridge in that its primarily aim is to move people in a car-free manner from one embankment to another. Simple enough.
While the exact location of the “technically rigorous and beautiful” bridge, touted as a “a genuine contribution to London’s transport infrastructure,” has yet to be decided, it’s south bank terminus will likely be in close proximity to the new U.S. Embassy, designed by Philadelphia-based firm Kieran Timberlake, that’s going up in Nine Elms, an area that the Guardian's Oliver Wainwright notes is "fast turning into one of the city's flashiest residential districts." It’s also been confirmed that the Dutch Embassy is relocating to the area. And if the rumors prove to be true, China’s diplomatic headquarters will also be moving in as well.
In its early years it will be a symbolic reminder to the rest of London that the newly created district around Nine Elms has awakened — and is well worth a visit. As time goes by, it will become a much loved and much used Thames crossing: an integral part of London’s ever growing infrastructure.
The price tag for the project is expected to ring in at £40 million, or about $62 million. Unlike Garden Bridge, none of this sum will come from public funding but from both private sponsors and a community infrastructure levy imposed on the developers responsible for erecting the aforementioned high-rises in Nine Elms. Despite being easier-to-digest in terms of price/funding front than the flashy, flora-clad project upriver, building the Nine Elms to Pimlico Bridge won't be cheap. It's also not free of local opposition and questions of whether erecting a flashy new footbridge that connects two wealthy neighborhoods — one old money, one new — is an appropriate use of money in the struggling city, no matter the source.
Ravi Govindia, leader of Wandsworth Council and co-chair of the Nine Elms Vauxhall Partnership, makes the case as to why the new bridge is needed and what it must entail:
There are considerable challenges and engineering feats to overcome. The design must work alongside the cutting edge architecture emerging on the south bank as well as the elegant frontages on the north. The landing points on both sides must integrate sensitively with their surroundings and provide a smooth and safe experience for the pedestrian and cyclists who use it. This bridge is also a badly needed and valuable piece of infrastructure for London. It has a very strong transport case, will support the city’s growth and has significant funding commitments already in place. Developing an inspiring, beautiful design will allow us to take the project to the next stage and ensure this project comes off the page into reality in a much shorter timeframe.
As for the design proposals submitted to the competition, they were showcased via public exhibition (they can currently be viewed at this online gallery) in late February. A shortlist of entries to move into the competition’s second stage is currently being decided. The shortlist will be announced later this month, while the overall winner of the competition will be unveiled in July.
It’s a wonderfully wild and whacky bunch for sure. And the British press has had a field day with some of the entries, no doubt, particularly Wainwright who bestowed 10 of the concepts with an informal moniker and tongue-in-cheek critique. I’ll let you figure out which of the below renderings he referred to as “the Flaming Mouth of Hades" and which he dubbed "the Gushing Mandolin."
Another concept, although not nearly as outlandish as some of the others, would appear to require period dress — and potentially a time machine — for crossing.
Scroll down for 10 of what I found to be the most eye-popping design renderings, arranged in no particular order. And do head over to the competition site to view all of the entries, including the ones that might actually fly (not to say the Flaming Mouth of Hades doesn’t have a shot). Do any stand out to you in a good or not-so-good way?
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