Warm reception for greenhouse across the Thames

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The Independent Online
A bridge covered with gardens is the public's overwhelming choice for a new river crossing for London. Forty thousand visitors to the Royal Academy's "Living Bridges" exhibition voted for their preferred "inhabited bridge" for the Thames from the seven on show.

Key features of the others included: a network of paths and cafes; two hotels and a leisure centre; a park; two towers of residential accommodation; and cantilevered accommodation.

A panel headed by John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, has already chosen joint winners of a competition to build the Thames's first inhabited bridge - the architects Antoine Grumbach and Associates of France for the Garden Bridge, and Zaha M Hadid of the UK for a cantilevered bridge with pedestrian walkways. The public clearly preferred Grumbach's Garden Bridge, which won 14,995 votes, according to figures released yesterday by the RA. Hadid came fourth in the public choice, with 4,634 votes.

The Garden Bridge has three elements: On the south side there is the "World's Culture Greenhouse", a vast covered public space protecting plants and tropical trees and providing space for restaurants, shops and flexible spaces for live concerts and other public activities. Access is gained by interior and exterior staircases, lifts and escalators.

At water level, on either side of the greenhouse, there are two walks which provide links between the bridge and the riverbank. Hedges running at right angles to the bridge's axis provide divisions between the shops and restaurants on the bridge. The hanging Gardens Towers which support the cables for the suspended portion of the bridge contain a hotel and apartments, with restaurants and meeting spaces conceived as greenhouses within and at the top of the towers. The Garden Bridge's 14,995 votes were 37 per cent of the votes cast. Second, with 7,483 votes was the design by the British architect Ian Ritchie for a bridge with a park and bowling alleys and a cinema beneath it. Third, with 4,741 votes, was the design by Future Systems of Britain for the People's Bridge, a pedestrian bridge with space for shops and restaurants.

The Garden Bridge proved especially popular with the large numbers of schoolchildren visiting the exhibition. They and many adults were taken with the idea of watching concerts and simply relaxing in a garden actually on the river. The Thames could have two new bridges by 2000.

Though an inhabited bridge resulting from the exhibition is yet to receive a firm go-ahead from a developer, the RA said it hopes to announce a proposal next month.

It will be be announced today that the architect Sir Norman Foster and the sculptor Sir Anthony Caro have won the international competition to design the pounds 8m Millennium Bridge linking St Paul's Cathedral and Bankside. It will be a stand-alone pedestrian bridge.

The "Living Bridges" exhibition has been visited by 95,000 people, making it the most successful architectural exhibition to be held in Britain.

It has been extended to run until 5 January.

The exhibition is supported by the Corporation of London and General Des Eaux, in association with The Independent.