A playful new London footbridge

Posted by Derek Mason

28th March 2023

Picture credit: Aveedibya Dey on Unsplash – Picture caption: An example of a rising bascule bridge

East London gets a playful new structure – a bridge you can roll by hand.

Bridges are generally built with motorists in mind, and even the most impressive structures are often more practical than playful. Which is why it’s encouraging to see a highly creative footbridge now open to the public, as the centrepiece of a regeneration project.

Cody Dock Rolling Bridge in East London was partly inspired by a square-wheeled bicycle. Architectural designer Thomas Randall-Page had seen a mathematician demonstrate riding a square-wheeled bike smoothly, along a humped track, and envisaged a bridge along the same lines.

It was partly luck that this bridge ever came into being, as initially a more sedate bridge was planned.

The Gasworks Dock Partnership (GDP) – set up to regenerate the docklands close to where the River Lea joins the Thames – had planning permission for putting in place an off-the-shelf rising bascule bridge from Holland (also known as a drawbridge or lifting bridge). It was a straightforward solution to the challenge of allowing foot and bike traffic to cross the dock, while also letting boats in when needed.

When Randall-Page got wind of this, he thought something more impressive was needed, and asked GDP Co-founder and CEO Simon Myers if he could propose an alternative. He then spent two weeks helping a friend move their canal boat, sketching his ideas in between opening and closing locks. Those Victorian locks inspired his counter-balanced, low-energy design, and seven years later it’s finally in place.

Made from weathering steel and oak, it’s thought to be the first of its kind in the world, rotating on its axis via a series of manual levers.

Speaking on a video for Dezeen, Randall-Page says the fact that it is manual is important, as it means no external power is required. As he puts it, “It simplifies things. There’s a whole lot less to go wrong. If something does begin to go wrong, you notice it – you literally feel it getting harder to move. It’s a kind of haptic check-in process the whole time.”

The bridge works via a series of hand cranks. Cables are wrapped around the edges of the bridge and attached to winches on either side. This means the flat section of bridge can be rotated 180 degrees into the air, to allow boats to pass. As the bridge rolls, scrap steel and concrete ballast inside the bridge hoops keep the 13-tonne structure balanced.

At the moment the bridge crosses a dead end in the dock, but it will eventually be reflooded, with the dock being used for moorings. The plans for the area around the dock include a community boat, café, gallery and exhibition space, visitors’ centre, visitor moorings, wash block, outdoor classroom, dry dock (for boat repairs) and studio space.

As well as revitalising the area, the bridge also fills a gap in the Leaway – a green corridor running from Hertfordshire, through Waltham Abbey and the Olympic Park and finishing at the Thames.

It’s an inspiring project and it shows what can be done when we choose the innovative, playful option rather than the solely pragmatic choice. As long as the underlying structure is sound, there’s no reason not to bring a little fun to your work. The rolling bridge will be opened once a week, and I’ve no doubt it will draw a crowd every time.

For more innovative London footbridges, take a look at this article too:

Two structurally impressive London bridges you might want to visit.

Meanwhile, if you need assistance with the structural elements of an upcoming project, please do get in touch.

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