The Sackler Crossing: a deceptively simple bridge across a quiet lake wins the RIBA London Special Award
In 2004 the decision was taken to commission what is the latest in a series of architectural interventions at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew – a bridge across the lake.
The site phase of the project opened with the draining of the lake for long-planned remedial work to the banks. In January 2006, work began on the piled foundations which carry the bridge's steel superstructure. Meanwhile the various components of the crossing were fabricated. The bronze fins which form the crossing's balustrades were extruded in the north of England and the black granite deck treads cut and polished. In a third location, the sweeping curves of the steel superstructure took shape - in two continuous sections which were subsequently sliced into 8-metre lengths for transportation.
The crossing plots a serpentine path across the water with the deck set at the minimum possible distance from the lake’s surface, allowing those crossing to feel that they are literally taking a walk across the water. This sense of proximity is enhanced by glimpsed views of the lake between the deck treads and by the near invisibility of the supporting structures which lends the bridge a quality of sculptural abstraction.
A spare material palette of granite and bronze reinforces the elemental character of the design. Rhythmic bands of dark granite laid like railway sleepers form the deck, while cast bronze vertical cantilevers set flush between the granite treads act as simple balusters, the top of each slender upright smoothly contoured to fit comfortably in the hand. Viewed end on, the balusters read as a solid composition. From the side this solidity fragments, allowing views through and affording the structure a pleasing material ambiguity, with light used to preserve this transparency after nightfall.
The RIBA London Special Award goes to this beautiful sculptural piece, whose purpose is to create a link over a lake between two parts of Kew Gardens. Its genius is in its deceptive simplicity, and in its use of materials that flatter the user by their richness, but are at the same time immensely sturdy: slate and bronze are all you see and touch.
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