A playful steel bridge becomes the new icon for Cardiff's docklands developments
This unique, iconic and playful new bridge near the Millennium Centre in Cardiff is the fruit of a long collaboration between engineer Ian Firth and architect Cezary Bednarski and an example of how unusual forms can evolve from technical necessity. Already noteworthy for its vibrant colour and striking form, the bridge is a purposeful application of structural logic to achieve a beautifully crafted and finely executed bridge. The unusual arrangement is not just wanton sculptural playfulness but satisfies the fundamental requirement of the brief - to avoid applying heavy loads on the historic lock walls.
Other solutions would have bridging right over the lock with long ramp approaches, completely destroying the lock-side experience. This design cleverly places the main supports well back from the sensitive lock walls and suspends the deck in the gap between, thus creating a "piazza" hovering over the water, level with the surrounding surfaces for optimum accessibility, and a clear space with headroom at each end for lock-side walks by pedestrians. This unique structural arrangement is an appropriate contextual response to the site.
Affectionately known as the "origami bridge" owing to the deliberate resemblance to folded paper, it was conceived in steel to suit the aesthetic intent and achieve light weight and rapid construction. The triangular edge beams are supported from the centre by large tapering triangular box section arms which extend to the props placed well back from the lock walls. An important feature of these dramatic elements is the crispness of the visible steel edges. Working closely with the fabricators, the engineers developed the innovative use of machined solid steel bars instead of welding the plates directly together to achieve this effect. The high quality of finish achieved, with all external butt welds ground smooth, is a testament to the fabricator's skills and craftsmanship.