Infrastructure: Link in a chain

Projects can serve a dual purpose of connecting different parts of the economy while also promoting identity

AFTER 2020 AND 2021 were spent pretty much confined to our immediate quarters, many of us will have emerged much more appreciative of the smaller or previously overlooked delights of the landscapes around us, whether urban or rural. And a vital part of those landscapes, especially for city dwellers, is infrastructure: roads, bridges, tunnels, stations, walkways, parks and playgrounds. They form the connective tissue that makes our cities and neighbourhoods not just liveable but loveable. And the more thoughtfully these pieces of infrastructure are designed, the more we enjoy using them.

Bridges don’t generally receive a huge amount of attention from the design and architecture media, though their impacts on previously disconnected communities or landscapes can be huge. When Tintagel Bridge (see case study) was nominated for a Stirling Prize in 2021, a lot of media coverage centred on the surprise factor that a bridge was considered of equal value to a building. But it’s not the first time that has happened. In fact, a bridge won the Stirling Prize back in 2002: Wilkinson Eyre’s Gateshead Millennium Bridge, uniting Newcastle with Gateshead across the dividing river Tyne. This bridge, combined with the Baltic contemporary art gallery and Sage Gateshead, activated a whole new cultural quarter around and across the river, bringing new life, social activity and economic opportunities to this unsung corridor of the city.

Wilkinson Eyre has been designing bridges since 1994, when its South Quay Footbridge in Canary Wharf first established the language of structural clarity, innovation and grace that is common to all their bridge projects. This elevation and consideration of the look and feel of a bridge was a welcome return to almost Victorian values, according to critic Jeremy Melvin, writing in Wilkinson Eyre’s 2003 book Bridges. He says: ‘Making bridges beautiful as well as useful is something designers would have taken for granted up until the middle of the 20th century but, as engineering split from architecture, it increasingly pursued economy and efficiency above all else. The importance of aesthetics became downgraded and the results impoverished our environment as the splendour and awe that bridges could inspire, and their potential as landmarks, was passed over.’

The look of the steel Nissen sheds is unmistakably reminiscent of wartime shelters, and were used as accommodation. Image Credit: Ed Reeve

Very true. But now we have seen the light. And those architects with a flair for bridge design are being invited to deploy their bridgebuilding expertise all over the world. For Wilkinson Eyre, notable recent examples include a cycle and pedestrian bridge in Copenhagen (see case study). They are currently designing two bridges for Brisbane to open up new pedestrian and cycle links across the huge, grey river that snakes through this big Australian city.

Key to Wilkinson Eyre’s approach, says Jim Eyre, is a sense of bridges as unique space for inhabitation and enjoyment, with the whole journey considered – from the distant views as you approach it to the mid-bridge vista, as well as the way it lands on the embankment or streetscape. He tells me: ‘We love designing them. We have always felt these bridges are like public property. It’s the community that owns a bridge. They should care what bridges look like. They are highly visible parts of the city. That means it’s more important they should be well designed. When we design them it’s not just about joining up A to B. It links in to desire lines, how it connects to landscape elements, and allowing that promenading aspect to bring moments of interest and joy. Bridges that we’ve done have become sociable gathering spaces. With our very first one (Canary Wharf) we started hearing that people were using it as a place to meet, to go and stand on this bridge. And in Northern Ireland, after we built the Peace Bridge, we heard extraordinary stories about people meeting who wouldn’t normally talk to each other, on this bridge.’

Those bridges that become iconic – the ones with the power to strengthen and generate links between communities and viewpoints – have to have a strong identity, informed by their context. Certainly, this is especially true of The Gateshead Millennium Bridge, set within a city of multiple bridges, of rail, road and pedestrian varieties, all constructed in the last 200 years: Stephenson’s high level railway bridge, Armstrong’s swing bridge, Mott Hay Anderson’s bridge, described by aforementioned bridgeafficionado Melvin as a ‘dry run for Sydney Harbour’. Referring to Wilkinson Eyre’s structure, Melvin says: ‘The mechanism of vast trunion bearings and hydraulics concealed in either bank is definitely innovative, yet it also seems to embed traces of the arch of the Tyne Bridge, the opening of the Swing Bridge, and the vantage point of the high level bridge. And when it opens, in a movement as graceful as an accelerated film of an unfolding flower, it appears to bow to its venerable neighbours.’ Indeed it does.

With the right amount of creativity, ingenuity and attention to context, infrastructure can enhance both movement through and around a place, as well as its sense of self. The case studies assembled here bear witness to that potential, including tunnels, archways and stations. Maybe that headline should be changed to: Infrastructure SHOULD be beautiful.


The interior of the arches provides ample space for start-ups, while providing a modularity in that they are demountable and transferable. Image Credit: Ed Reeve

The Low Line is a newly emerging walking route between London Bridge and Waterloo stations, aimed at revitalising the omnipresent infrastructure of Victorian railway viaducts and their multitudes of arches, and connecting them through the activation of small pockets of urban space in and around them. Backed by £1m from the Mayor’s Good Growth Fund, the Line starts at the well-used pedestrian thoroughfare below the Shard, trailing West along St Thomas Street, through the greenery and historic spaces around Southwark Cathedral and Borough Market – a route that has become well worn since Tate Modern opened further down the Thames in 1999. For the Low Line development partners – Better Bankside, Blue Bermondsey, Borough Market, Team London Bridge, the Arch Company and Southwark Council – the aim is to draw people away from the obvious attractions of the river towards the hinterlands between Southwark Street and Union Street, connecting existing parks and public spaces with new. Begun in 2016, the route is still somewhat invisible to those not in the know.

No walking route will feel entirely safe if users are absent, which is where London practice TDO is hoping to make a big difference. They have come up with an appealing and cost-effective demonstration of how to make habitable the 70 arches that remain empty or inaccessible along this stretch, to attract a wide variety of businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurs to the area. Inspired by the flexibility, ease of construction and robustness of the classic galvanized steel Nissen sheds (invented for temporary shelter and storage during World War Two and still used widely in agriculture), they were drawn to the fact that these sheds can be inserted in a variety of configurations as a form of light touch retrofit that celebrates the existing vaulting brickwork of the arches, and can be adapted, or easily demounted and re-used elsewhere, as needs evolve. They have completed two fit-outs, at Ewer Street and Redcross Way, offering flexible work space, community space, a cycle hub and sustainable support services for local businesses (a cycle courier service) and an operations base for cleaning and waste recycling.

Tom Lewith, founding director of TDO says; ‘The unique qualities of railway viaducts and the generous volumes of the arches underneath have fascinated us since the early days of TDO when we converted a vacant arch in Southwark into our studio. Thousands of railway arches are vacant across the country and present a significant retrofit opportunity.’

Client Better Bankside, Team London Bridge, Blue Bermondsey, Southwark Council and The Arch Company
Architects TDO
Cost N/A
Completion 2022


The potential plans would see the Rhondda Valley become home to the longest digital art gallery space. Image Credit: Scott BrownriggThe potential plans would see the Rhondda Valley become home to the longest digital art gallery space. Image Credit: Scott Brownrigg

An abandoned, two-mile long railway tunnel could end up becoming the world’s longest digital art gallery and performance space, if plans drawn up by Scott Brownrigg and tourism consultant Steven & Associates come to fruition. If so, the 130-year-old Rhondda Tunnel could transform this Welsh valley’s fortunes through cultural and eco-tourism. The proposal adds to original suggestions that the tunnel become a footpath and cycling route. It retains that green and safe walk and cycleway, connecting the communities at either side, but adds a visitor centre at the western end, which is accessed in the village of Blaengwynfi, offering art galleries, café, external performance space and digital theatre. At the eastern entrance, in the village of Blaencwym, a new hotel would provide guests with a unique experience of the valleys, with an exoskeleton of digitally constructed timber ribs, which changes across the length of the building, evoking the flickering movement of trains as they pass the eye. Meanwhile, the gallery design references both local rail and mining heritage, with scorched black timber cladding, elevated above the slopes of the tunnel entrance on slender stilts.

A viewing tower would offer stunning valley views. Image Credit: Scott BrownriggA viewing tower would offer stunning valley views. Image Credit: Scott Brownrigg

The tunnel is also proposed to feature a 40m high viewing tower rising out of the top of a 60ft ventilation shaft, offering visitors stunning vistas of the countryside.

Welsh-based digital arts programme Lumen has signed up as potential curator of installations to spark the imagination around themes of movement and engineering.

The building’s exoskeleton communicating the fluid nature of trains in motion. Image Credit: Scott BrownriggThe building’s exoskeleton communicating the fluid nature of trains in motion. Image Credit: Scott Brownrigg

It is estimated that this unusual combination of culture, ecology, tourism and green infrastructure could boost overnight stays by 40,000 annually, and generate 150,000 day trips, bringing an additional £16m annually to the local economy.

The scheme was given a boost in December 2021 when the then transport secretary Grant Shapps agreed to transfer ownership of the tunnel from National Highways to the Welsh Government.

Client Undisclosed joint venture public/private partnership
Architects Scott Brownrigg
Tourism consultant Steven & Associates


Light pours into Paddington Station courtesy of Spencer Finch. Image Credit: Veronica SimpsonLight pours into Paddington Station courtesy of Spencer Finch. Image Credit: Veronica Simpson

Art on the Underground – the subterranean visual culture programme run in-house by Transport for London – has been gently delighting and provoking London tube travellers for over 20 years, commissioning leading UK artists (of all origins and persuasions, reflecting the city’s diversity) to enrich the platforms, entrances, corridors and walls of this vast network. When Crossrail (now the Elizabeth Line) – an ambitious fast-track underground network speeding Londoners between East and West – was announced by the UK Government, it was accompanied by a declaration that no public money could be spent on art. Luckily, Future City, a global cultural placemaking agency, got wind of it and they devised a funding system to support the commissioning of nine striking public art works to go in the key stations, all of which have been designed by leading UK architects.

Two character’s enjoy themselves in a warm and welcoming Chantal Joffe piece in Whitechapel station. Image Credit: Veronica SimpsonTwo character’s enjoy themselves in a warm and welcoming Chantal Joffe piece in Whitechapel station. Image Credit: Veronica Simpson

So now Londoners can enjoy a cloudscape in the glass canopy over Paddington Station’s exit escalators by Spencer Finch, a delicate network of golden-leaf stars by Richard Wright embedded in the concrete ceiling in Tottenham Court Road’s East Ticketing hall (to be joined by a Douglas Gordon film near the exit closest to Soho, London’s filmmaking hub), a glass-scape of tumbling diamonds (due to its proximity to London’s historic jewellery district) by Simon Periton in the transit hall at Farringdon and atmospheric photography from Michal Rovner at Canary Wharf. From spring 2023 there will be a Darren Almond work at Bond Street, and a Conrad Shawcross and Yayoi Kusama around Liverpool Street. The work that most vividly evokes the Londoners of its environment, for me, however, is Chantal Joffe’s work A Sunday Afternoon in Whitechapel – represented by a series of portraits of locals, taken from the streets and underground trains – which bring colour to the seating alcoves of Whitechapel’s Elizabeth Line platforms.

Simon Periton’s work on the Farringdon Transit hall gives the glass a dramatic and fractured energy. Image Credit: Veronica SimpsonSimon Periton’s work on the Farringdon Transit hall gives the glass a dramatic and fractured energy. Image Credit: Veronica Simpson

The selection was guided by recommendations from the artist roster of leading art galleries near these big stations, working in partnership with the funding bodies. Once chosen, via an assortment of selection panels, then the artists themselves worked closely with Crossrail engineers and the station architects to execute their ideas. Eleanor Pinfield, head of Art on the Underground, says: ’It’s great to have wonderful works of art by very significant artists at these stations. Yayoi Kusama I was particularly excited by, because there isn’t another permanent work of hers in London. Other artists, apart from Conrad Shawcross, they don’t have public works in London. But I love Chantal [Joffe]’s work. It’s very different. She has a very domestic understanding of the tube, very everyday. She’s clearly been watching women doing their make up. It’s all pretty small scale but there’s so many of them. That’s one of my favourites.’

The art, it has to be said, is beautifully framed by the striking, sculptural quality of the entire Elizabeth Line network – tall, light and spacious tunnels, with interesting curves and contours and a really elegant continuity to the materials and treatment throughout the network (aside from at the stations, where the individual architects can express themselves a little more). Says Pinfield: ‘It’s a once in a generation project. And it shows that good design, great architecture and great art can really make a difference. We now have a network with a lot of amazing art in it.’

Client: The Elizabeth Line
Operation and maintenance: Transport for London
Cost: £7m (City of London Corporation £3.5m, fundraising £3.5m)
Completion: 2022/3


With its slick steelwork, Tintagel Bridge successfully reinstates a connection lost around 500 years ago. Image Credit: Hufton+Crow

Tintagel Bridge is a thing of beauty that deploys contemporary engineering technology to re-animate and reconnect a site of great historical significance. This slim, breathtaking, steel walkway over a gorge of 190ft, which was unveiled in Autumn 2019, reinstates a pathway that had been lost since the middle ages. The bridge follows the line of an original route, now vanished thanks to coastal erosion, which ran along a narrow strip of land between the 13th century gatehouse of Tintagel Castle on the mainland to a courtyard on the headland or island where the remains of the Castle sit, jutting out into the sea.

The original pathway was lost in the 15th or 16th century, but English Heritage, which manages the property, has brought it back to life with this footbridge of steel, local Cornish slate and oak. It was built in Plymouth and designed by Ney & Partner engineers and William Matthews Associates Architectural Practice. Two independent cantilevers of around 30m in length extend from each end, almost touching in the centre, but not quite: a 40mm gap has been designed in the middle, to represent the transition between mainland and island, the past and the present.

Even without the bridge, Tintagel Castle welcomed 250,000 visitors a year, and it’s hoped that – post pandemic – those figures will return, or even be exceeded, safe in the knowledge that the congestion which often resulted from visitors having to double back along the cliff to get from gatehouse to castle, should be reduced. It is part of a wider £5m programme of footpath networks English Heritage has invested in to reduce the impact of visitors on the site’s delicate ecology and archeology. The bridge was made possible thanks to a donation of £2.5m from Julia and Hans Rausing. A further £5,000 was raised by members of the public, whose names are signed on the Cornish slate tiles which form the bridge’s walkway.

Client: English Heritage
Operation and maintenance: Ney & Partner engineers and William Matthews Associates Architectural Practice
Area span: 180m
Cost: £5m
Opened: August 2019


Lille Langebro’s curved design connects the district of Nørrebro with Amagerbro, constructed in the wake of a cycling boom in Copenhagen, the bridge hosts cyclists and pedestrians. Image Credit: Rasmus Hjortshøj

The huge boost to walking and cycling in Copenhagen has had an unfortunate unseen consequence – as the armies of cyclists crossing heavily used road bridges grew, so did the risk to their safety. This fact helped to justify a new Lille Langebro cycle and pedestrian bridge, by WilkinsonEyre, which opened in late 2019, linking the city centre and inner harbour with Christianshavn. Various civic assets have evolved alongside it, including a playground and swimming platform (which is hugely popular in the summer, for river swimmers) and so have the habits of the city’s residents.

Lille Langebro’s curved design connects the district of Nørrebro with Amagerbro, constructed in the wake of a cycling boom in Copenhagen, the bridge hosts cyclists and pedestrians. Image Credit: Rasmus Hjortshøj

Director Jim Eyre says: ‘When we design (bridges) it’s not just about joining up A to B. It links in to desire lines, how it connects to landscape elements.’ The elegant curving alignment is just one of the 160m bridge’s three key ideas, evoking the arc of ramparts and moat of Christianshavn’s historic fortifications. The second is the structure’s unusual undulating wings either side of the bridge, forming acute edges which capture the play of light on water across its form through day and night. Third is the innovative opening mechanism: two swinging sections that connect the bridge, presenting it as seamless and unified, part to allow larger boats through. For usual river traffic, the midspan of the bridge provides the required 5.4m navigation clearance. Devised together with engineer BuroHappold, the opening mechanisms are concealed in the piers, which are painted grey to minimise visual impact, while the primary steelwork is painted off-white, to emphasise its elegant geometries. Lighting within the bridge’s handrail guides both cyclists and pedestrians while architectural lighting is displayed outward, showcasing the structure to all river users.

Client: Realdania By and Byg
Architecture: WilkinsonEyre
Engineering: BuroHappold
Completed: August 2019
Geotechnical engineer: NIRAS
M&E Engineer: Eadon Consulting
Landscape architect: Urban Agency
Lighting consultant: Speirs and Major

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