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Comps insider: Rotherhithe offers bridge procurement fresh start

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If anything can be salvaged from the Garden Bridge debacle and Heatherwick Studio’s controversial appointment it should be a commitment – cast in marine concrete – to transparent design contests

Fortunately London’s new mayor Sadiq Khan has an early opportunity to turn over an autumn leaf and show lessons have been learned with the proposed Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf Crossing.

Announced last month as one of five East London connections intended to revolutionise transport and unlock growth, the £100m pedestrian and cycle bridge is being fast-tracked for completion in 2020.

Competitive procurement is due to start in March and to set the ball rolling Transport for London has launched a market engagement exercise so it can quickly identity a ‘cost effective solution’ to the challenge.

The frontrunner in any such discussions is most likely to be an proposal already developed for Sustrans by local practice reForm Architects with Elliott Wood Consultant Engineers and Aurp.

Drawn up to feasibility stage – the registered scheme (pictured) proposes a high-level, 185 metre-span crossing featuring an opening bascule supported by angled masts at each side.

An alternative low-level opening bridge – which could be significantly cheaper, require less ramps and support much more ground-level regeneration – has however been advocated by Farrells.

Such a solution would directly challenge Port of London requirements on bridge heights and that is why a transparent design contest – open to practices of all sizes – could be crucial, both to restore public confidence in mayoral procurement and to stimulate necessary debate over river traffic.

One city already demonstrating enthusiasm for this form of procurement is Warsaw which is planning to launch an international design competition for a new £6 million pedestrian and cycle bridge in the coming weeks.

Inspired by Margaret Dembowska’s Warsaw University of Technology student thesis, the low-cost 400-metre crossing over the Vistula River will connect the Polish capital’s old town to nearby suburbs and is planned to start in 2018.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • (On behalf of Paul Finch)
    You don't need a competition to find out if the Port of London Authority rules preclude a low-level bridge. The question which needs determining, if there is to be a low-level option, is how frequently the bridge would be raised before its purpose became hopelessly compromised. Another question is whether the competition criteria adopted (eg financial turnover) prejudice the chances of smaller practices getting beyond the first stage, let alone the likelihood of winning. This applies even though they may be talented and committed, which is certainly the case with reForm Architects and Elliott Wood, whose proposed design was immediately welcomed by Sustrans, who know more about bridges than the GLA. The constant call for competitions plays into the hands of project management ideology which is far from good for architects. There isn't of course any competition involved in writing the brief and setting out criteria which begin to pre-determine the sort of winners likely to emerge. From observation, the weighting given to design quality is far too low but competition-groupies don't seem to care. Paul Finch

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