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This wild new bridge is based on a forgotten wonder of Victorian engineering

Inspired by the “rolling bridges” of the Industrial Revolution, the structure can be inverted—without help from motors or electricity—to accommodate ships.

First invented in Victorian-era England, “rolling bridges” were retractable drawbridges, designed to unite either side of a moat, river, or canal. For centuries, these unhinged structures tucked themselves out of the way to allow bodies of water to accommodate passing boats, which were usually transporting bulk goods.

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Now, architect Thomas Randall-Page has developed an updated version of this type of bridge for east London’s Cody Dock—a 19th-century wharf on the River Lea. Randall-Page’s proposed steel bridge will somersault over the river when boats pass through, making it equal parts acrobatic and functional. Its square frame will rock in a full revolution along the river it lies across, aided by teeth-lined railings that slot into cavities on the opposite side for a perfect fit.

[Image: Thomas Randall-Page]

“Rolling parallel to the channel it crosses, this design owes much to its Victorian forbears. They knew that moving large heavy structures efficiently requires that they are a balanced system and my design works on this same principle,” Randall-Page told Dezeen.

A human-operated handle, in coordination with motor-less counterweights, will roll the pedestrian bridge out of its resting place and into an inverted position to accommodate barges. According to Randall-Page, the bridge design “aims to be understated in its rest position but celebratory and playful in its movement creating a memorable event for spectators when operated.”

[Image: Thomas Randall-Page]

The architect has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help fund the construction of the bridge, which will exist as part of a larger effort—spearheaded by London-based design firm PUP Architects—to develop Cody Dock and the riverbank surrounding it. Gasworks Dock Partnership is the nonprofit charity responsible for bringing attention to the former industrial dock’s need for revitalization, after it fell into disrepair centuries after its construction in the 1870s. Over the next decade, this team of activists and architects plans on building artist studios, moorings, and a café to establish a stronger creative community along the River Lea.

This rolling bridge exists in the universe of other pieces of kinetic architecture, which are bringing about a sea change in the world of motion-based design. Other notable examples include London’s sculptural Merchant Square pedestrian bridge, which folds up like a fan, and the recently debuted moving roof atop the Shed at New York City’s Hudson Yards. This new genre of responsive architecture is the perfect fit for cities that are changing faster than ever—and the people that inhabit them.

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