While the solar panel-roofed Blackfriars Railway Bridge may be viewed as the greenest structure to provide passage across the River Thames, another project that recently snagged £30 million in government funding will, once completed, be London's greenest bridge in a true literal sense. After all, what other bridge in the British capital city provides a crucial pedestrian link between the north and south banks and adds to "London's rich and diverse horticultural heritage?”

Topped with a wide variety of flora set against a network of “meandering walkways” that will move pedestrians between the hip South Bank (think art galleries) to the not-so-hip Temple district (think barristers) and beyond, the lushly planted footbridge with a £150 million ($249 million) price tag is envisioned by project mastermind Joanna Lumley — yes, that Joanna Lumley — as being a “floating paradise garden.”

Spanning a planned 1,204 feet across the Thames in a proposed location that’s roughly parallel to the pedestrian-unfriendly Waterloo Bridge, Lumley describes her Garden Bridge as being “a place with no noise or traffic where the only sounds are birdsong and bees buzzing and the wind in the trees, and below the steady rush of water.” The celebrated actress and human rights activist adds: “There will be grasses, trees, wild flowers, and plants, unique to London's natural riverside habitat. I believe it will bring to Londoners and visitors alike peace and beauty and magic."

And while Lumley’s vision for a elevated park in the middle of the city may scream High Line, keep in mind that London’s Garden Bridge is not an adaptive reuse project like New York City’s most bucolic tourist-magnet. This isn't a re-do —a "put a tree on it" move, if you will — of an existing bridge. It will be a newly built work of infrastructure — the first pedestrian corridor spanning the Thames to be built since Norman Foster’s initially vomit-inducing Millennium Bridge opened to the public in 2000 (and then opened again in 2002 after it was closed for two years while the vomit-inducing issues were corrected by engineers).

The core team Garden Bridge team consists of Lumley, architect Thomas Heatherwick (he of the 2012 London Olympics cauldron), consulting firm Arup, and celebrity horticulturist/landscape designer Dan Pearson, who in a great recent interview with Gizmag, explains that he wants pedestrians crossing the proposed bridge to not only feel “sheltered and protected by the plants” but to also “feel the power of nature in the city and be aware of the wildlife sharing this new route across the river with them.”

Lord Mervyn Davies — not to be confused with Lord Bryan Davies who called the Garden Bridge a “very expensive piece of public art” and a “vanity project of the mayor” — serves as chairman of the Garden Bridge Trust, a charity that promotes and seeks funding for the project.

As mentioned, the British government recently pledged £30 million in funding for the project, the same amount committed to by Transport for London (TfL). Additional funding has — and will continue to — come through private donations. With funding going well and a TfL-sponsored public consultation period in the bag, an application for planning consent will be submitted this coming May. If that goes through as expected, construction on the Garden Bridge would kick off as early as 2015. It will take an estimated two years to complete.

Elaborates the TfL consultation page:

The Garden Bridge will integrate a new kind of public space into the fabric of the city, adding to London’s rich and diverse horticultural heritage of heathlands, parks, squares and community gardens.
The Garden Bridge will create new perspectives of the London skyline that are unavailable anywhere else and will be a major new visitor attraction for London. It will be a landmark on the South Bank and North Bank, supporting the development of the surrounding area. This iconic bridge will regenerate these areas, creating new jobs, contributing to the city’s economy and reinforcing London’s status as a ‘world city’.

As noted by The Independent, the idea for a public garden-cum-footbridge spanning the Thames has been kicking around for a while now. Lumley first pitched the concept back in the late 1990s following the death of Princess Diana. However, it wasn’t until the 2012 Summer Olympics that her starry-eyed vision of a magical floating above the Thames— inspired by “memories of the mist-covered mountain gardens of her childhood home in Malaysia” — began to gain serious traction as a feasible project.

When not chain-smoking Rothmans, slugging back Stoli, and slagging around with men half her age on "Absolutely Fabulous" reruns, Lumley, 67, can currently be seen in “The Wolf of Wall Street” putting the moves on Leonardo DiCaprio as "Aunt Emma."

Via [Gizmag], [The Independent], [The Guardian]

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

London's Garden Bridge to bring tranquility, foot traffic to the Thames
Actress Joanna Lumley is behind an urban park/footbridge project in London that's, well, absolutely fabulous.