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Millennium Bridge prize leaves London First on shaky ground

London First has risked becoming the subject of ridicule from the general public by presenting an award for 'outstanding contribution to architecture in the year 2000' - to the still-closed Millennium Bridge.

The business organisation employed TV personality Joanna Lumley to present the award to David Bell, chairman of the Millennium Bridge Trust, last week for the 'significant role' it feels both the bridge - designed by Foster and Partners, Arup and Sir Antony Caro - and the Tate Modern have played in the redevelopment of the area south of the Thames.

But while the Herzog & de Meuron gallery has been a runaway success with the public - with attendances soaring to more than four million since last May - none of those visitors have been able to take advantage of the £18.2 million bridge since it closed last June with wobble problems.

The award presented to the two 'outstanding architectural achievements', by publisher Agenda, was accompanied by a brochure describing the project as 'one of the capital's most exciting Millennium monuments'. The only reference to the 320m long 'blade of light's' major problems - which have been chiefly the result of early pedestrian users walking in synch - is in a line about the bridge's 'famously shaky start'.

London First chief executive Stephen O'Brien defended the award. 'The Tate Modern and the bridge will be seen as the crowning glory of the Millennium projects, ' he told the AJ. 'I personally think the bridge is a brilliant and brand new concept.We backed it at the start and we'll go on backing it.'

The bridge is set to reopen this summer following the £5 million retro-fitting of shock-absorbing dampers and four chevrons.Arup said mechanical shaker tests on a £250,000 prototype damping scheme have been completed and are currently being assessed by WSAtkins.

London First made eight awards in all, including one for Mile End Park and another for the 'runaway success story' of David Marks Julia Barfield's BA London Eye. But O'Brien said they had rejected the Millennium Dome as a prize winner - because of the bad press it has received.

Meanwhile, London First is making progress on another high-profile bridge crossing for the Thames, with its own plans to breathe new life into Antoine Grumbach's Living Bridge scheme (AJ 7.12.00). The project won a Royal Academy competition in 1996, but the architect is working on a new version of the scheme, featuring restaurants and shops, to cross the Thames between Temple and the LWT building. O'Brien said he has consulted with the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment 'to let them know what's cooking' and expects a design that they are 'confident with' to emerge inside six months. 'It's a big project, ' he said.

'At the moment no-one knows quite how big.'

The scheme has already been attacked by English Heritage, however, which is - as with the Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates-designed tower near St Paul's - concerned with threats to views.

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