Gateshead Millennium Bridge (2002)
The brief called for a footbridge that met the ground on each riverbank. Others, because of the Tyne’s steep gorge, do so further inland. This was likely to mean a steep gradient (or steps) if there was to be sufficient clearance even for small craft, making it inaccessible to wheelchair users or all but the fittest cyclists. Wilkinson Eyre instead proposed a curved deck to reduce the gradient. This in turn suggested a solution to the other part of the brief: a mechanism for allowing the occasional passage of taller ships. The architects’ elegant answer to this was to pivot the bridge at either end so that it could be hinged open.
The idea was eminently simple – a pair of arches. One is the deck, the other supports the deck. Both pivot around their common springing point,
The structure was built in sections in Bolton, assembled at Wallsend and shipped upstream and dropped into place on its concrete abutments by a giant crane to within a tolerance of one millimetre. One false move could have wiped out the thousands watching the procedure on either bank.
In choosing the Millennium Bridge as the winner, the judges described it as architecture and engineering in close harmony.
Wilkinson Eyre Architects
Drawing by Jim Eyre