Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Reflections on the Millennium Footbridge, London

click photo to enlarge
The brouhaha that accompanied the opening of London's Millennium Footbridge - it was immediately closed for over a year to correct a wobble induced by large numbers of pedestrians - overshadowed the ambitious nature of the design. Now that it has been in daily use for over a decade the daring of its designer, Norman Foster (assisted by Arup Associates and the sculptor Sir Anthony Caro) is somewhat taken for granted. Consequently I'd like to review just what makes it such an ambitious conception.

The Millennium Footbridge was the first new Thames crossing since the construction of Tower Bridge, and the first ever designed solely for pedestrians. Its novel shape arises from the designers' intention that the views from the bridge of the river and the city should be as clear and as uninterrupted as possible. River traffic and the desire to thrill produced a central span of 320 metres. Only two supports are placed in the water, quite close to the banks. These are elegant "Y" shapes. Looking at the structure it's not immediately apparent that it is, essentially, a suspension bridge. The cables are not slung in the usual manner and closely follow the contour of the deck, never rising more than 7 feet 6 inches (2.3 metres) above it.

The bridge looks slight but strong. It is highly popular with people and makes the journey from St Paul's Cathedral to Tate Modern and the South Bank (and vice versa) a dramatic and exciting walk. My main photograph is taken from the point where a slope up from the south bank riverside walk splits and then rejoins and the footbridge arcs up and over the Thames. I've photographed the bridge before, including from that same viewpoint - see here and here.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 18.5mm (50mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/400
ISO: 125
Exposure Compensation:  -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On