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War of words over Heatherwick Thames garden bridge proposal


Warnings by the City of London that Thomas Heatherwick’s proposed £175 million Thames Garden Bridge could block protected views have triggered a heated debate about the scheme’s merits

Responding to consultation on the proposed ‘green’ link between the South Bank and Temple, the City of London chief planning officer Annie Hampson said: ‘From a large section of the riverside walk between Waterloo Bridge and the proposed garden bridge, views would be severely obstructed and St Paul’s Cathedral would cease to be a significant landmark in much of this part of the South Bank.’

The 367m-long bridge has the backing of numerous celebrities, including instigator Joanna Lumley, and the support of London Mayor Boris Johnson, who has pledged £30 million towards the cost.

Jim Eyre from bridge specialist Wilkinson Eyre Architects said: ‘The City is right to raise the issues. While the benefits of new views from the Garden Bridge itself are obvious, view corridors from other locations must be considered.’

Matt Yeoman, director at BuckleyGrayYeoman, went further, echoing comments made in the House of Lords in January about its cost and necessity (AJ 10.01.14). He said: ‘The bridge proposals are a pure vanity piece. It is not a design response to a particular problem, nor is it something London needs.’

And Chris Medland, director of emerging practice One-world Design, added: ‘Although the images are enchanting and the idea of a contemporary living bridge is a good one it is not in the right place and is not being done for the right reasons.’

Plans for the bridge were submitted on 30 May and Arup has already carried out an impact assessment on the existing views, drawing up more than 40 visualisations.

In response, the team behind the bridge – Transport for London together with the Thames Garden Bridge Trust, which has already raised about £90 million to fund the scheme – said: ‘The Trust and its advisers will be reviewing the comments in detail before responding to the City, Lambeth and Westminster.

‘[We] ran a collaborative process before applying for planning permission and it has received overwhelming support from the local community.’

Speaking in defence of the scheme, Will Alsop of All Design said: ‘[The scheme is] beautiful. Get on with it.’

Heatherwick's Garden Bridge

Does London really need a Thames Garden Bridge?

John Robertson, founder, John Robertson Architects

‘The Garden Bridge is too easy to dismiss as a vanity project and those that do so miss the point that this is a key move in a much bigger game: the Thames presents us with the opportunity to create one of the best inner-city green spaces in the world.’

Peter Rees, former City of London chief planning officer

‘Like goldfish, elected mayors live within in a narrow window of perception and dazzle us with their presence.  There is just time to change the buses, say, before another one swims into view. No matter what is being built, or for whom, if it gives the impression that London’s economy is booming … Since high-rise blocks of ‘investment apartments’ take a while to build, there must be some high-profile spectacles to add to the mayoral CV. 

‘Why not a floating park on the Thames or a garden bridge across it? No matter that the park was simply an excuse to build commercial structures in the river or that the location and design of the bridge don’t aid pedestrian movement. It’s just more ‘bread and circuses’ for the tourists.’

Lee Mallett, urban regeneration adviser at Urbik

‘Whatever the niggles, which can be resolved, more pedestrian bridges linking up the two sides of London’s most powerful urban features, the river and its northern and southern banks, so that people can flow from one to the other experiencing London in all its grandeur, should be a central spatial and urban design policy for the GLA and all the riparian boroughs.

‘This is surely a great example for London and should be reinvented as a new vehicle to create and maintain the new generation of bridges that London needs, which, in central London at least, should be bridges for pedestrians and cyclists with spaces to linger and other entertainments, reviving one of the most enduring and attractive urban ideas – that of the inhabited bridge.’

Owen Hatherley, architecture critic

‘This overdesigned, misplaced celeb-sponsored folly shows a staggering misunderstanding of what makes the view of the Thames in central London one of the great city views of the world, and proposes to Disney-fy it in so drastic a manner that it’ll be irrevocable if built. The Thames will then be decisively turned into a continuous promenade of tourism and spec flats, with nothing much of value left.’

Peter Murray, chairman, NLA

‘The idea for a garden bridge was first proposed by Antoine Grumbach at the Living Bridges show, which I curated at the RA in 1996. Then, as now, I was surprised by the conservative position taken by many commentators on river views. The new bridge will provide a delightful public space and a spectacular vantage point for the enjoyment of London – a place to stop and meditate (in contrast to the Millennium Bridge, which seems more about movement). If the trees grow too high for the City, I’m sure they can ask Joanna Lumley to get out the secateurs.’

Matthew Wells, engineer at Techniker

‘I have a genuine affection for the principle that Old Father Thames is sacrosanct and shouldn’t be developed over. I dislike the notion that exceptionally good design can overturn a long-standing social constraint. Where else does a city provide an unbombastic vista than along its river frontages? Embankment parks are obviously a fine embellishment to any city, but trees grow on land. Heatherwick tried this green bridge thing a decade ago and it was given short shrift, so to see it recycled in one of our national assets is just dull.’


Readers' comments (6)

  • If the point of the garden bridge is to provide a new public space raised above the Thames with dramatic views of the river, then it seems counter-intuitive to fill the thing with trees. Why not just create an inhabited platform without the greenery and provide unobstructed views of the river frontage?

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  • Owen Hatherley and Mattew Wells have it exactly right. And it isn't beautiful - more clumsily streamlined.

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  • The view of the Thames in central London may have been one of the world's great city views 300 years ago but oh, the irony of those who have done most to promote and enable the ruination of that view in the past thirty years, now suddenly converted to protecting it when it's far, far too late, is rich to say the least.

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  • Tower Bridge blocks out the views of the Tower of London.
    I've never heard such ridiculous reasons for not building the Garden Bridge, I think it is an imaginative forward looking project
    that can only enhance the appeal of London as an exciting destination for both tourists and Londoners.

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  • Reposting my designed visual comment once more :
    I stand by Gareth Hughes' comment, above here !
    See for yourself WHERE the real problem with St.Paul's protected views are : The grown jungle of centraal London, NOT this new bridge proposal. Reactions welcomed. Please GO this link, don't just read and skip, otherwise you don't know what I'm saying...
    I could do a different design on the PARK bridge, I don't think it's a high flyer of spacial creativity and social playtime strenght right now, but I do support 100% the basic concept of it !

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  • Susan James

    Whatever the pros and cons of having the garden bridge, has tree expertise been included. My concern is that it may not be possible to deliver the landscape as visualised....perhaps a reality check here of what can be achieved?

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