Over and above architecture: Bridges that are going places

Spectacular bridges are going up all over the world, with four planned in London alone

When we humans see a massive river or a gorge between us and where we want to get to go, it’s human instinct to want to build a socking great bridge over the gap.

Despite what politicians might make some of us think we want, the one urge we truly have is to be connected to everyone else. Bridges are the symbolic glue that binds us together.

Today’s superbridges are being built longer and higher than ever – the Jiaozhou Bay Bridge in China is 16 miles long, while Lord Foster’s Millau Viaduct in France is taller than the Eiffel Tower. We seem to have a new appetite for show-off bridges too: Bristol is getting a new “Twisting Bridge” over the Avon, and the Firth of Forth in Scotland will be crossed in 2016 by a huge new bridge, the Queensferry Crossing.

Four new bridges are planned to span the Thames in London alone. A timely new exhibition at the Museum of London in Docklands, called Bridge, uses photos, paintings and video to look back at the history of bridging the river through the capital – and at future plans for links from Pimlico to Nine Elms, the Diamond Jubilee Bridge from Chelsea Harbour to Battersea Park, the new East London Bridge from Beckton to Thamesmead, and Thomas Heatherwick’s flashy Garden Bridge from Temple across to the South Bank.

The latter has aroused the most interest because, covered with plants and trees, it’s a complete flight of fancy – a kind of Jurassic Park-on-Thames. The squat East London Bridge won’t have the same razzmatazz as the Garden Bridge, but its bus and cycle lanes could transform life for the residents of Thamesmead.

Bridges have the capacity to make life better. “Good bridge design improves peoples’ lives,” says bridge designer Martin Knight, “...and, unlike most buildings, the formal life of most bridges is 120 years.” He adds: “I’m reminded of this by the fabulous Maidenhead Railway Bridge by Brunel, which I pass daily.”

A good bridge can define a city – San Francisco’s Golden Gate, Sydney’s Harbour Bridge and Mostar’s Stari Most, painstakingly rebuilt after the Bosnian War. Knight was the project architect on Gateshead’s Winking Eye Bridge – which won the Stirling Prize in 2002.

He’s also just been shortlisted for an award by the Institute of Structural Engineers for his new Te Matau Pohe Bridge in Whangerei, New Zealand, which is shaped like a Maori fishing hook. He says he “takes great satisfaction that the engineering and architecture are indivisible on this bridge”.

Today, we’re sensibly slotting in new bridges for people and bikes, rather than just for cars. Copenhagen has just put up the Cykelslangen (literally “Cyclesnake”) which slithers over the city’s waterways, carrying a new bike lane.

It could be the model for the Skycycle elevated bike lanes that London aspires to build. The Danes always go further though – they even want to plonk a cycle lane on the Oresund Bridge, star of the TV show The Bridge, so that they could pedal over to Malmo in Sweden.

“Bridges are ‘people places’ – particularly pedestrian bridges. It’s important they are destinations – as well as a means of getting across something,” says Mark Whitby, who’s rustling up a new crossing over the River Lea in London’s Docklands. “The City Island Bridge, with its 90-metre long bench, will be the biggest red Dali-esque sofa in the world when it opens in November,” he says proudly.

These are austere times. We can’t afford to dream quite like our forebears did, yet some dreams are hard to shake off – plans for ever longer and more elaborate bridges just seem to keep coming back, like a villain who refuses to die at the end of a slasher movie.

Superbridges from Italy to Sicily, from Malta to Gozo, from Spain to Morocco, from Argentina to Uruguay, from Russia to Alaska, and even from Britain to Ireland, have all been on the drawing board.

But one crazy crossing that will definitely be built next year is the world’s highest and longest glass bridge – it’ll span a canyon at Zhangjiajie in Hunan Province, China. The 400m-long glass bridge won’t be one for vertigo sufferers, but its ambitiousd esign goes over and above what has gone before.

‘Bridge’ runs until 2 November at the Museum of London, Docklands

Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week