Bridge bonanza

What, exactly, is a bridge for? Crossing some obstruction to get from one point to another, in a functional kind of way? Don’t be so naive. These days bridges are high-design objects, collaborations between architects and engineers. They frequently meander and incorporate seating and look-out platforms – like the new Castleford bridge, following the course of a weir, by McDowell and Benedetti with engineers Alan Baxter and Arup. Some of them are kinetic, lifting or rotating (McDowell and Benedetti also have a swing bridge in Hull which incorporates a moving café). Increasingly, they aspire to be sculpture. Most of the interesting examples are pedestrian or bicycle crossings, but just occasionally – as with the monumental Millau motorway viaduct in southern France, by engineer Michel Virlogeux with Foster & Partners – the car gets a look-in too. That bridge generates its own sightseeing traffic. But it’s the smaller stuff that most fascinates – such as Kew Gardens’ new treetop walkway by architect Marks Barfield with engineer Jane Wernick, or the new Temple Quay bridge in Bristol docks by Niall McLaughlin with engineer Price and Myers, which is simple and subtle. Bridges have become a symbol of regeneration, often connecting rich and poor areas. Money flows across them. And as one of the last places for building designers to have fun, there’s no sign that the bridge design boom will stall. Spans: Viaducts, bridges and walkways is at New London Architecture, The Building Centre, 26 Store Street, London WC1, until 20 September

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