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Artist Thomas Heatherwick has dramatically replaced Wilkinson Eyre, the firm behind the Stirling Prizewinning Gateshead Millennium Bridge, on a huge bridge project in east London.

The practice has been ditched in favour of Heatherwick on the important crossing - part of developer Ballymore's massive mixed-use development plans for the Leamouth Peninsula.

The switch came after CABE mauled Wilkinson Eyre's original designs early last year, forcing Ballymore into a major rethink of its proposals.

It is also understood that London Mayor Ken Livingstone was less than enthusiastic about the plans.

As a result, the developer decided to double the size of the crossing, which will connect Canning Town on the north side of the Lea to the new development on the south.

It is understood Heatherwick's new design will extend into Canning Town, rather than finishing at the tube station as previously envisaged.

The scheme looks set to be submitted for planning in early summer.

CABE's comments about the initial proposals did not pull any punches, claiming the plans lacked 'freshness'.

A design review report issued in January 2005 read: 'While the architecture of the [SOM-designed residential building] seems fresh and exciting, the design of the bridge does not.

'It bears little visual relation to the architecture or landscape design of the peninsula. The vertical circulation on the north side of the river appears unresolved, inelegant, and not necessarily very convenient. The present proposals are inadequate.

'This aspect should be rethought, taking more account of the wider connections.'

However, despite the knockback, Wilkinson Eyre chief Chris Wilkinson denied there was any animosity over the developer's decision to replace his team, which won the Stirling Prize in 2002 with its groundbreaking 'winking' bridge over the River Tyne.

He said: 'The brief changed. We were originally appointed some time ago to design a bridge that would stretch from bank to bank.

'Various people wanted the peninsula to be connected through to Canning Town.

They're [now] not designing a bridge as such. It's more a fihigh-level peninsulafl from Canning Town to the other side of the Lea.'

Located on a high-profile site opposite Richard Rogers' Millennium Dome, the Leamouth Peninsula project will include 4,000 new homes and 25,000m 2 of 'cultural exhibition space', according to Ballymore.

The developer is also working with SOM, Martha Schwartz and BDP to work up the plans for the development, in which the bridge will play a key role.

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