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Return to Ipswich: Foster + Partners wins Upper Orwell bridge contest

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Foster + Partners has won an RIBA competition to design three waterfront bridges in Ipswich, the home of the practice’s breakthrough Willis Faber & Dumas Building of 1975

The AJ100 top-ranked company saw off finalists WilkinsonEyre, Knight Architects, Paris-based Marc Mimram, and a joint bid by Adamson Associates and Ney & Partners with Tintagel Bridge victor William Matthews Associates.

The jury in the Upper Orwell Crossings contest, which was run in partnership with Suffolk County Council, was impressed with the ‘elegant simplicity’ of the practice’s design and its ’potential to enhance Ipswich’s thriving waterfront’.

The victorious scheme features a large road bridge with a lower level pedestrian route attached to its piers. Foster + Partners’ designs also feature a separate and improved pedestrian link across the Prince Philip Lock connecting the east bank to the Wet Dock Island.

Chair of the judging panel Michael Hopkins said: ‘Apart from the economical elegance of Foster + Partners’ engineering solution, we particularly admired the integration of the pedestrian routes with the principal vehicle crossing which, taken together, will naturally encourage further development of the island.’

Colin Noble, Leader of Suffolk County Council, added: ’The design element of the project is crucial and with Foster + Partners’ input I believe the final design of the crossings, once completed, will be looked at in the same light as their iconic Willis Building in Ipswich’s town centre.

’We are excited to be working with such a highly-regarded group for this project that is important for the town as it enables us to reap benefits that will greatly outweigh the cost of the project.’

Planned to start on site in 2020, the project is expected to cost around £100 million.  

Spencer de Grey, head of design at Foster + Partners, said: ‘Ipswich holds a special place in our hearts. The Willis Faber & Dumas Building was a landmark project for the practice, and we are delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to the town once more.

’The design of the bridges focusses on enhancing the experience of crossing the Orwell River, increasing interconnectivity and reducing congestion in the town centre. The project also offers the opportunity to consider the design of the bridges in a wider urban context, creating new promenades and public spaces between the riverfront, inner harbour and island.

He added: ’We look forward to working with Suffolk County Council to develop and refine our proposals over the coming months to help realise a new urban vision for Ipswich.’

Foster orwell competition

When the competition was launched last year, it was outlined that the winning architect would join an existing project team led by WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff, who would be responsible for providing structural and civil engineering input to the project.

These requirements initially attracted criticism from some architects for failing to encourage collaboration with the project engineers from the outset.

Briefing documents said participating architects had to consult an engineer or bridge designer when drawing up a scheme, but stipulated that any appointment would cease at the end of the competition stage.

At the time bridge designer Cezary Bednarski, of Studio Bednarski, said it was ‘totally illogical’ to solicit designs at competition stage without advice from the project’s actual engineer. 

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