19 October 2014

London Bridges: 37. Olympic Park Bridge 1

Of the London Olympic Park bridges I've covered so far, this is certainly my favourite. It connects the former Olympic athlete's village (now a residential development) to the neighbourhoods of Leyton and Forest Gate. A road bridge always carried Temple Mills Lane across the railway tracks here, but it is narrow and barely with room for pedestrians. A new pedestrian bridge therefore offered a significant improvement in the quality of the local link.

The new footbridge sits immediately alongside the existing road bridge. It was designed by Knight Architects with Arup, and spans 35m over railway tracks. In form, it is a half-through steel twin-girder bridge, the conventional solution for a footbridge over a railway. The advantage of the arrangement is that it maximises clearance below the bridge, by combining the function of the support girders with the function of an imperforate parapet, a standard requirement of the railway authorities.

There are standard designs of this type, but this design is far from standard. As with many of the Olympic park bridges, it uses weathering rather than painted steel, to avoid the need for future maintenance painting above an electrified railway. This looks attractive from a distance, although it's very noticeable close up quite how uneven the appearance of the steel can be.

The girders are painted on their inner face, so that any graffiti can simply be painted over. Their governing feature is their sheer height, determined by the fact that here the bridge spans not just a conventional railway, but part of a high-speed railway line (the sidings to the train depot, I believe). It's easy to imagine what an oppressive passageway could have resulted, but the designers have worked hard to mitigate the girder height, by inclining the girders outwards, and by using only mesh panels for the highest parts. The mesh is given a varying inclination to set up a geometrically attractive curved intersection between the mesh and its support girder.

Stiffeners in the girder, required mainly to stabilise the structure against buckling, are expressed on both the inside face and the outside face, with a varying pointed edge to the external stiffeners again providing the visual interest.

It's a very attractive bridge, although I have to note that, as with some of the other Olympic park bridges, its most attractive side is a little wasted at present. One side of the railway is private land, from which the public can't see the bridge, and on the other, it is a public park from which views of the bridge are limited. However, it's entirely possible its visibility will change over time.

Although the bridge's mesh panels are a little austere, my overall impression of the bridge is that it is likeable, even friendly. It lacks the "security-facility" aesthetic that some of the other nearby bridges display to their pedestrian users.

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