Thomas Heatherwick Studio
Rolling Bridge, Curlling Bridge
The studio was commissioned to design a pedestrian bridge to span an inlet of the Grand Union Canal at Paddington Basin, London, and provide an access route for workers and residents. Crucially, the bridge needed to open to allow access for the boat moored in the inlet.
The aim was to make the movement the extraordinary aspect of the bridge. A common approach to designing opening bridges is to have a single rigid element that fractures and lifts out of the way. Rolling Bridge opens by slowly and smoothly curling until it transforms from a conventional, straight bridge, into a circular sculpture which sits on the bank of the canal.
The structure opens using a series of hydraulic rams integrated into the balustrade. As it curls, each of its eight segments simultaneously lifts, causing it to roll until the two ends touch and form a circle. The bridge can be stopped at any point along its journey.
The whole structure was constructed at Littlehampton Welding on the Sussex coast and then floated up the Grand Union Canal, before being lifted into position and attached to the hydraulic system which powers its movement.
The Rolling Bridge won a number of awards including a Structural Steel Award, and an Emerging Architecture Award.
It opens every Friday at midday.
The Rolling Bridge was conceived by British designer Thomas Heatherwick, designed by SKM Anthony Hunt with Packman Lucas, and built by Littlehampton Welding Ltd. The Hydraulic design and development was done by Primary Fluid Power Ltd in the North West.
The bridge consists of eight triangular sections hinged at the walkway level and connected above by two-part links that can be collapsed towards the deck by hydraulic cylinders, which are concealed in vertical posts in the bridge parapets. When extended, it resembles a conventional steel and timber footbridge, and is 12 metres long. To allow the passage of boats, the hydraulic pistons are activated and the bridge curls up until its two ends join, to form an octagonal shape measuring one half of the waterway's width at that point.
The maintenance and opening of the bridge is managed by Merchant Square Estates and it is up every Friday at noon. Following on from the maintenance issues in 2008, the bridge has been repaired and was fully operational from April 2009.
In 2005, the bridge won the British Structural Steel Design Award.
"Rolling" as a name and as a type
While its designer refers to this particular structure as "The Rolling Bridge" on his website, this should probably be regarded as the name for this particular bridge rather than a term to refer to its type, which could be more accurately described as a "curling bridge". This name is used by some to refer to this bridge. At present, this curling bridge is the only one of its type known to be in existence.
Traditional use of the term "rolling bridge" dates from at least the Victorian era, and is used to describe a type of retractable drawbridge used to span a ditch or moat surrounding a fortification. That type of bridge is not hinged, and remains horizontal when it is rolled inside the gates of a fort. Modern versions are called retractable bridges or thrust bridges. One particular version of the rolling bridge type was known as the Guthrie rolling bridge, examples of which may still be seen at Fort Nelson, Portsmouth. Certain types of bascule bridges roll on an arc; an example is the Pegasus Bridge.