Merchant Square Footbridge

PrizeGold in Architectural Design / Transportation
Firm LocationHigh Wycombe, United Kingdom
CompanyKnight Architects
Lead ArchitectBart Halaczek
ClientEuropean Land & Property Ltd

The competition-winning design by Knight Architects and engineers AKT II for the replacement opening footbridge at Paddington Basin spans 20m across the Grand Union Canal at the heart of the new waterside Merchant Square development. The brief, set by European Land, called for a piece of architecture that would provide a focal point to an area of waterfront public space that will be opened at least once a week, coinciding with the opening of the nearby “Rolling Bridge” by Heatherwick Studio, and the pair of bridges are conceived as a distinctive piece of visual theatre. As well as the axial alignment of the crossing, the other aspect of the brief which inspired the team was the opportunity for the bridge to provide drama in its movement. The modest span suggested that only vertical movement will offer the drama sought in the brief, certainly when compared to a slewing or swing bridge. This arrangement also suited constraints on land ownership which dictated the structure should be supported primarily from the north end, with only limited support provided on the south bank. The resulting design concept is both simple and spectacular: a 3m wide cantilevering deck is hinged at its north end and is raised using hydraulic jacks with an action similar to that of a traditional Japanese hand fan. The five steel beams forming the deck open in sequence and shaped counterweights assist the hydraulic mechanism and reduce the energy required to move the structure. The aim was to create an elegant, innovative design that utilised proven technologies, resulting in a structure that would have a significant impact on its locality and bring connectivity, identity and delight. The design has been considered in respect to the high quality new architecture and landscape, and from elevated as well as ground level viewpoints.