Most of the time, the new Merchant Square pedestrian bridge in London looks like an ordinary–and even boring–crossing. But watch when a boat comes by: The bridge slowly folds up like a Japanese fan.
For the architects who designed the bridge, it was meant to be as much a piece of sculpture as practical infrastructure. “It’s designed not only to provide shipping access to the far end of the canal, but also to be an eye-catching highlight,” says architect Bartlomiej Halaczek from Knight Architects, the firm that won a competition to create the bridge.
There actually isn’t much boat traffic in the area, but city law requires bridges to let barges through. Since there wasn’t quite enough room on land for a regular bridge to arch high enough, the designers tried to find a simple, maintenance-free solution for a movable bridge. Five steel beams, driven by hydraulic jacks, slowly tilt skyward, with counterweights helping reduce the energy needed to run it.
The bridge, which opened last month, connects a new park with surrounding neighborhoods. Nearby, a new skyscraper will include 600 new apartments and 500,000 square feet of office space, helping bring life back to an underused area.
So far, most Londoners have been fans of what some have nicknamed the Scissorhands Bridge. “The people I met on site were very enthusiastic, and enjoyed the drama of a seemingly subtle and functional structure suddenly pointing at the sky,” Halaczek says.