Normally, when something infrastructural like a bridge is designed, it is a deeply considered architectural object which sits gently within the urban context it is designed for. However, as the Garden Bridge was designed for a separate location entirely and simply plonked, like any other Heatherwick model upgraded from 1:200 scale to 1:1, in the middle of a world heritage site it doesn’t have a great relationship with the river banks it sits upon.
This is no more obvious than when you consider the sheer number of steps needed to get on and off this most inelegant of impositions. Over 120 steps are needed if you are intending to use the Garden Bridge to get from the South Bank to Temple station, making a mockery of any backwards-engineered proposition the development is for transport or pedestrian connectivity.
Think about the light touch that the Millennium Bridge has as it sits upon the riverbanks, and then see how the Garden Bridge takes over the landscape it suggests to be a link between: on the north bank it attacks an architecturally listed underground station and constructs a concrete overpass on top of the Victoria Embankment, on the south side it demolishes a community park to offer up a massive commercial unit which doubles up as, on its roof, a corporate entertainment space and a terrace for 2,500 person queue.
This bridge will save no more than 25 seconds on a walk from Waterloo Station to northern side of the city, it was never proposed as a transport solution or a useful piece of of urban design, instead it plonks itself aggressively in the site it presumes to own, with difficult access for anyone disabled, with a bicycle or who can’t use the eight flights of stairs needed to cross from South Bank to Temple.
It isn’t a transport bridge. As Heatherwick himself said, it would be a success if “someone went on and spent the day, and left and never went to the other side at all”. So that TfL and the Dft decided it was worthwhile of over £60m of public transport money while never relating to any evidenced plan for walking, cycling or urban connectivity – and at the same time as much needed river crossings with genuine regeneration and community benefits are obvious – is incredible and disgusting.
This post was originally part of The Garden Bridge 12 Days of Christmas.
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