Bridging the gap: lightweight pedestrian foot bridges, Part 2

By Robin Fisher, Architectural Critic

The second part of a look at contemporary European footbridges…

In this article I continue to look at the footbridge as part of urban regeneration schemes, connecting previously dislocated parts of the city, utilising brownfield sites and creating architectural showpieces.

Villetaneuse footbridge, Paris

A new transport hub was set up in 2010 around the University of Villetaneuse north of Paris that brings together light rail networks with new tram lines. However this new hub widened the divide between the north and south sections of the city.
The footbridge therefore fulfils two functions: make the railway station more accessible whilst linking up the different neighbourhoods. Local citizens can gain views across from the footbridge across the city skyline to improve its visibility. With a width of eight meters the footbridge becomes an open public space in its own right. Its organic design resembles that of a grass blade that wraps around pedestrians to protect them from the railway’s high voltage power lines and from the rain.

Footbridge providing panoramic view of Paris and connecting rail links, Villetaneuse, Paris

Footbridge providing panoramic view of Paris and connecting rail links, Villetaneuse, Paris

The slope of the footbridge hides two gentle ramps at either end which are accessible for cyclists and prams. Access for the disabled is provided by two lifts which are fitted within the bridge’s two main piers. The footbridge spans across 156 meters and its structure is made in high-performance steel grades. It was assembled in four different sections between 32 and 50 meters long. The two central sections of the footbridge above the railway tracks weighed 200 tonnes and its installation required using the biggest crane in France. A grooved wood deck has been installed on top of the steel structure and on the rounded lower sections of the footbridge. Above that line a veil of stainless steel mesh fixed on the exposed steel structure allows views across the city. Strip lights set on the edges of the footbridge emphasize its sleek shape at night.

The Villetaneuse footbridge creates an enticing path with lighting edging the cyclepath and walkway. Image DVVD Architectes

The Villetaneuse footbridge creates an enticing path with lighting edging the cyclepath and walkway. Image DVVD Architectes

The Arganzuela double footbridge

Footbridge, Arganzuela, Madrid

Footbridge, Arganzuela, Madrid

Again this footbridge is part of a titanic project to bury a 5km portion of Madrid’s main ring road to create a 120 hectare park along the river bed of the Manzanares. The new footbridge links up the new park with Madrid’s Puerta de Toledo. To design this footbridge, the French practice DPA called on both 3D modelling software and the skills of a shipbuilder. From its primary and secondary structure through to the wire-mesh of its guard rail, steel is very much the dominant material here. Its tensile structure and stainless steel mesh are here to express shape, force and function whilst capturing and reflecting Madrid’s strong sunlight. The distance from one river bank to the other is almost 300 meters so the footbridge is split into two gently sloping sections of 158 m on the west side and 132 m on the Madrid bankside. In the middle of the footbridge the two sections rest on a gentle mound and are slightly misaligned one from the other. From a distance the footbridge with its dynamic helicoids tapering at each end looks like a party streamer that embodies the light-hearted spirit of la Movida, Spain’s post Franco cultural movement.

Showing the interior of the Arganzuela footbridge which spans the Manzanares river in two legs. Image from Architectism.

Showing the interior of the Arganzuela footbridge which spans the Manzanares river in two legs. Image from Architectism.

The primary structure is made up of a brushed and smoothed hollow steel beams that are welded together to form a conical shape. A secondary circular tensile structure made up of stainless steel mesh act as sun-screens. The teak decking is split into two levels: one is reserved for pedestrians whilst the other is a cycle-path. Between the two levels seating areas have been integrated where Madrileños can indulge in their favourite pastime: chatting whilst looking on to passers-by. The lamp masts also designed by DPA flood the footbridge with light at night. The powerful curves of the steel battens and the transparency of the steel mesh, combine to make you feel both sheltered and free.