“Definitely Not A Bridge”

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View: Dutch architecture firm OMA was amongst 74 entrants for a competition to style a new footbridge across London’s River Thames – but its entry was a lot more about creating a statement than trying to win, explains practice companion Reinier de Graaf.


Final month our workplace took component in a competition for the 9 Elms to Pimlico Bridge in London. We did not win this competitors and, funny as it could sound, also did not assume to.

For decades, bridges have been used as a pretext for architects, engineers, and at times even artists to show their virtuosity – creating the line-up of current bridges a vanity honest, much like the line-up of latest higher-rise buildings. In this respect, a easy glance at the picture over makes sufficiently clear that we did not stand considerably of a likelihood, not least simply because we refused to perform.

Our entry was (and is) a statement, and by getting a statement, its primary aim was (and is) to turn the tables: it pre-emptively passes judgment on the other entries and consequently on the competition as a whole. Our entry served as significantly as an evaluation of the competitors as it would be evaluated itself in the competitors.


Related story: Shortlist unveiled for 9 Elms to Pimlico bridge competitors


The call for submissions had been open to every person. For the sake of fairness, to shield smaller sized companies from the track record of bigger ones, entries had been guarded by strict anonymity (far more about that later on). Seventy-four entries had been submitted, each and every a single labelled with a code – the only way to ultimately match the style to its writer. Ours was #043. In a odd way this code, merely a dry variety, went collectively nicely with the abstract, “anonymous” aesthetics of our proposal. This operate could stand on its very own, independent of the presence of an writer.

The essence of a bridge eventually resides in what it permits, not in the way it appears

The competitors quick had named for “the design and style of a landmark”, which, provided the truth that bridges are “landmarks” by definition, seemed unusual. The essence of a bridge in the long run resides in what it enables (a shorter journey from A to B), not in the way it looks. Its attractiveness is more probably to be found in under- rather than overstatement, but plainly not all see it that way.

Two weeks ahead of the deadline our group went to operate. We opted for simplicity: a single Vierendeel truss spanning the distance amongst the north and the south bank of the river Thames foot and bicycle paths organised on either side to create a symmetrical cross area that was logical in terms of structure. Rather than incorporating a new structural “tour de force” to London’s more and more virulent townscape, this bridge, virtually like a series of picture frames, would capture and re-frame the existing and emerging context of London.

On public release of the 74 entries (still identified only under their code names at that point), CityMetric, a London-based mostly blog, featured a listing of “the twelve most ridiculous styles for the new Battersea Bridge”. Ours was firmly ranked number 1, described as “The one particular that is absolutely not a bridge”, followed by “a helpful tip to architects: you cannot just draw squares on a photograph and phone it a layout.” In terms of sarcasm, we had been in no way singled out – English humour is wonderfully indiscriminate in that respect. Thinking about the remarks produced about other entries: “The Millennium Bridge with sprinklers” and “Why cross straight, when you can go on a 200 meter detour?” we regarded as ourselves fortunate, even encouraged by how apparently well our intentions had been understood.

There are two prospects: categorical rejection or unconditional embrace

A radical proposition forces a radical end result. There are two choices: categorical rejection or unconditional embrace. The verdict of blogs such as CityMetric was clear, and even though the jury was prohibited from informally sharing its deliberations, we can also make a fairly educated guess there. The elimination of the 2nd likelihood – we did not win – leaves only the initial. As such, an all-or-nothing at all technique to competitions also renders unnecessary any type of jury confidentiality: praise or scorn, in both case, no more knowledge of detail is required.

Must we have won, or even produced the shortlist, an exciting predicament would have arisen. Since the design’s intentions had been so emphatically stated from the start, selecting it as a winner would have implied an equally emphatic endorsement and, considering that the proposal promotes a break with a prevailing trend, also a rejection of the city’s current previous.

The design’s radical aesthetics virtually phone for a radical form of politics, tough a method that notoriously thrives on compromise and caution. Time inevitably generates space for 2nd ideas – there’s absolutely nothing far more specified than doubt. Politicians, susceptible to “weak knees”, get cold feet, and weaselling public officials are all also happy to convert these doubts into a type of long term stagnation.

In these murky waters any form of eye-catching layout nearly acquires the status of a contract, which, by way of the sheer electrical power of its imagery, constitutes the only notion of a binding agreement in between otherwise disparate parties, in a way written contracts (there’s absolutely nothing a lot more ambiguous than British English) by no means do.

It was only a matter of time prior to the proposal would run into a stand-off in between progressive and conservative views

When it comes to realising competitors styles, the unravelling normally begins instantly after a winner has been announced. This situation was even far more intense. Hrs soon after the competitors entries had been produced public, Westminster City Council publicly announced it did not want a bridge. They in no way had.

The composition of the jury, with representatives from Wandsworth and Lambeth Councils on the south side of the river, but not from Westminster – the authority responsible for the land on the north side – must have given everyone some indication of that.

Getting launched into major new true estate developments at Nine Elms, Wandsworth, the competition’s initiator, had much more to acquire from a connection to the north than vice-versa. It was only a matter of time just before the proposal for a hyperlink in between a conservation area in the north and a new advancement area in the south would run into a stand-off in between progressive and conservative views.

Shortly soon after Westminster’s public statement, the announcement of second-round candidates was postponed (appropriately rescheduled for Friday the 13th). Then, the want for complete anonymity was revisited. Whilst in its earlier phases the competition had suggested a variety driven by the good quality of the design and style proposals, the emphasis was now on picking “the correct team”.

The image of our bridge has grow to be a actuality in its own correct

Let us search forward to London 2020: right after a prolonged period of political opposition, dragged out procedures and public viewpoint serving as a permanent alibi not to move forward, Pimlico and 9 Elms are as disconnected as ever. For cyclists and pedestrians, Vauxhall Bridge, 800 metres up the street, stays the nearest crossing. Why go straight, when you can go on a two kilometre detour?

Meanwhile, the image of our bridge, possessing gone viral right after its publication on Dezeen in 2015, has grow to be a reality in its own right, there for absolutely everyone to see. Abstract and serene, undisturbed by the bickering and petty worries that have come to surround the impasse around the eventual winner. Its crisp virtual presence is strangely at odds with the struggle it would have taken to realise. It is what it is definitely not a bridge.


Reinier de Graaf is a partner of Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) exactly where he directs the perform of AMO, the analysis and design studio established as a counterpart to OMA’s architectural practice.

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