A (143,590 sq) feat of engineering

Tuesday 10 Jul 2012

Another London landmark: Blackfriars Bridge is 320m long, 10m longer than Renzo Piano's Shard of Glass is tall

Recently I was fortunate enough to have a guided tour of the recently opened (but not quite finished) Blackfriars Bridge by Network Rail Senior Project Manager, Mike Stephens, who has been working with Jacobs to deliver this project. 

Alighting from the train at Blackfriars Station will ultimately offer some of the best views from the River Thames in London. The platforms now run the entire length of the bridge, spanning the river, providing access south to the Southbank river walk and its tourist attractions or north to the new and existing commercial developments.

The north side of the station dubbed the ‘cathedral space' hosts the interchange between London Underground and the Network Rail link at Blackfriars. A curved four storey glazed façade offers light and visual connection between the street and the spacious ticket office/public area that clearly directs people onto the underground or overground services. This space is dominated by an elegant dark blue curved glazed column ventilation shaft. Bespoke up-lighting fixtures and blue LED's light the entire station, casting a blue glow over the brushed aluminium cladding and balustrades.

The station elements have been designed to mitigate the effects of terrorist attacks and security breaches whilst maintaining a safe and clearly navigable space. The entire glazing system and its structure have been designed for that very reason using a bespoke detail realised by Jacobs and Pilkington.

At the southern end of the bridge the Victorian brick buttress has been restored and adapted to create new vertical and horizontal circulation routes offering views between the new public realm river walk, the River Thames and the southern entrance to the overground services. In order to accommodate the new platform width, Bridge 410 (Blackfriars) has been widened by the addition of 1 new arch rib to the up-stream (east-side) and 3 no arch ribs to the downstream (west side); this has been achieved by extending the existing river piers on the east side and incorporating one of the redundant columns of Bridge 409 on the west side.

The arch ribs have been retained but strengthened by extra stiffening in the bearing area and over the top flange; all the original riveted iron-work above rib level has been replaced with welded steel spandrel posts and a steel deck plate.

Mike Stephens recalls: "The main construction challenges have been to stage the works such that the main deadlines can be met within the operational boundaries presented by live main and underground railway lines, the busy River Thames, and key highway routes."

50% of the station's energy will be generated by the solar panels. Frans van den Heuvel CEO of Solarcentury said: "Blackfriars will be one of the world's great solar power installations. Architecturally challenging, the project demonstrates just what is possible with this versatile technology in dense urban areas. We've been working amongst one of the most complex build programmes in the country, at height, over water and live train lines. It's a great feeling to be half way there."

One of the my favourite features is the solar roof maintenance ‘spine' that runs the entire length of the bridge with port hole windows and gull wing doors (very James Bond!).

Caroline Stephens

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