More questions asked about the scheme’s viability
Already the subject of controversy among local residents and political opponents over its location and design, Boris Johnson’s planned new garden bridge spanning the Thames from South Bank to Temple in London has now hit further troubled waters.
Questions are now being asked about the fairness of the procurement process involved as it is revealed that the selected architect, Thomas Heatherwick and his studio, is less experienced in bridge design than the two other contenders, Wilkinson Eyre and Marks Barfield.
The UK’s Financial Times newspaper reports that ‘critics have seized on internal Transport for London (TfL) documents showing that Thomas Heatherwick, the winning designer, was scored more highly than two competing architect firms in the ‘relevant design experience’ category. Heatherwick Studio was awarded four out of five points, whereas the others both received a score of three. The category represented 25 per cent of the overall evaluation.
The article quotes Walter Menteth, a former chairman of the Royal Institute of British Architects procurement reform group, as telling Architects Journal that the transport body’s scoring ‘does not make any sense’.
The idea for the garden bridge was originally mooted by much-loved British actress, Joanna Lumley, who has known Boris Johnson since he was four years old. The Financial Times report continues: “It emerged last month that Ms Lumley wrote to London’s mayor in May 2012 pitching the idea of the bridge and suggesting a meeting with herself and Mr Heatherwick to discuss it.” The bridge has since been granted the planning go-ahead.
However, TfL has refuted claims of impartiality, stating that it ‘is satisfied a robust and proper process was followed to award this contract’. The questions are being raised because although the planned £175 million bridge was originally to be funded privately, spiralling costs have led to the UK Treasury allocating around £60 million of public money to the project, making it accountable to the UK taxpayer.
WAN’s Editor, Michael Hammond was joined by serial bridge designer, Cezary Bednarski and leading expert in design competitions, Malcolm Reading, to discuss the latest controversy over the planned 366m footbridge.
It’s a lively interview in which questions about whether access restrictions effectively make the bridge private rather than public are raised, and comparisons are drawn with New York’s High Line. Bednarski comments: “The High Line, which was reusing old train tracks turned into a linear garden is a brilliant idea. But there was an expensive infrastructure element in place that nobody knew what to do with, so turning it into a garden is a great idea. But building expensive infrastructure to support a garden is completely ridiculous. I can’t believe this is going on.”
Reading agrees, adding: “The High Line is a piece of infrastructure in the city. It’s not across a river with arguably this extraordinary, probably unique view point which has been recorded through the centuries. I feel very uncomfortable about it - I like Thomas’s work very much, it’s a very inventive idea - but it going to have an enormous impact on the skyline and that viewpoint across the river.” To hear what else they had to say, listen to our podcast…
In this week’s ShopTalk podcast WAN’s Editor, Michael Hammond talks with Cezary Bednarski a London based bridge designer and Malcolm Reading, a leading expert in design competitions.