Bridges are a big deal for London and always have been. Without the bridges to connect and hold London together, we would not have a full metropolis. We would be cut in two. They are physical monuments of London’s wealth and ingenuity; ever since 1176 and the creation of a lavish bridge to connect the north of the river to the road to Canterbury, they have symbolised the British pursuit of opulence and efficiency.
Today, bridges are just as important as they have ever been, and they need to retain their efficiency and good looks. With a mix of modern art represented with the Millennium Bridge, Victorian heritage with Hammersmith Bridge, and world renowned design with Tower Bridge, competition to be the most lavish is ripe. The high standards on the Thames pose a particular challenge and opportunity for Britain’s engineering firms. A company wanting to leave its mark on London will undoubtedly fight tooth and nail to be the next to erect a crossing.
With a need for a new bridge across the Thames, London-based news outlets have been assessing and stressing their opinions on the designs submitted by various engineers and architects. A wide and healthy variety of ideas has been posed since the late 1990s, and now it seems that the clear winner is Thomas Heatherwick’s garden bridge. But it has not been an easy journey for the design.
Heatherwick’s design has been in circulation since the early 2000s, and has ridden on the reputations of several patrons to get it pushed along. First off, it was going to be dedicated to Princess Diana. Then it had Joanna Lumley garnering its support. Recently, Heatherwick – the architect who designed the Olympic Cauldron for London 2012 – was recruited for the project. It seems that public support has not been generated by how it will be built, but rather who is going to back its construction.
Ultimately, building bridges is now a question of PR. Yes, there is the practicality and need to have a new crossing, but selling this need requires a trustworthy image, name and idea behind it. An engineering company cannot sell a bridge to Londoners if it is not beautiful, backed by high profile individuals, and buys into pre-constructed ideas of the values within London.
Just as a new bridge will connect the southern and northern sides of the Thames, it will also link the gap between engineering and the masses. A bridge cannot be made without the expertise of the engineering industry, and the engineering industry cannot sell its expertise without public endorsement.