Google+ London Architecture Blog: Week 19 13 Feature #12 London Bridge

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Week 19 13 Feature #12 London Bridge

London Bridge

London Bridge
Architect: Lord Holford (Architectural Adviser) and Mott, Hay and Anderson (engineers)
Date Completed: 1967-72
Location: London Bridge, River Thames

The current London Bridge was designed by the engineers Mott, Hay and Anderson with Lord Holford as architectural adviser and was constructed 1967-72. The earliest timber bridges on the site date back to Roman times when settlements began to grow to the north the River and the previous crossings (a ferry and a ford system) proved unsuitable for the expanding populations. Since the early Roman bridges, there has been at least 3 other bridges including a medieval timber bridge structure with houses, a 19th century stone bridge and the current design.

The first bridge was built around AD80, and linked the Southwark settlements with the north of the River Thames where further settlements were set up on the higher, dry ground forming the foundations for trading and shipping communities. London (Londinium) became the trading capital of Britain and the bridges built during the Roman period enabled the free flow of traffic and exchange of goods not only between the two sides of the river but for trading routes to the rest of the Roman Empire.

Numerous timber bridges were built and replaced until a more permanent stone bridge designed with gothic style arches was built by Peter de Colechurch in 1209. The bridge contained gatehouses, a drawbridge, a chapel, houses and small shops which contributed towards funding further construction and maintenance of the bridge. Small communities formed and trade continued until parts of the bridge were destroyed during the revolt led by Jack Cade against the reign of King Henry VI in 1450. Despite the devastation, parts of the bridge were rebuilt and later developments of the bridge included water wheels located beneath the arches which were used to grind grain and then later to provide piped water. The bridge was then damaged during a fire in 1633, and then in the Great fire of 1666.

Model of the medieval bridge in the Museum of London in Docklands.
By the 18th century, after nearly 600 years all of the houses had been removed and the bridge was widened for increased traffic and adapted, but this proved problematic and in 1800 plans were drawn up for the complete replacement of the bridge. In 1824, John Rennie's design was chosen and construction began in 1825, 180ft to the west of the medieval bridge. The new bridge was completed in 1831, and was constructed from granite and consisted of 5 round arches spanning between 4 heavy set piers.

The new bridge provided improved access and traffic flow especially with the construction of London Bridge railway station. The bridge became part of a popular commuter route from the station over the river into the city. Developments were added at either ends of the bridge and due to the increased traffic, the bridge was widened in 1902-04.

Due to structural problems and further traffic congestion, plans were drawn up for a new bridge in the 1960s to replace Rennie's bridge with a more modern design. The new bridge would offer more space for commuters and traffic and stop the expensive repair and maintenance of the existing structure. At the same time, Robert McCulloch, an American purchased the bridge for $2,460,000 and the bridge was later rebuilt in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

The current bridge was then constructed on the same site as Rennie's bridge and traffic continued across the bridge uninterrupted during the construction process. The previous bridge being carefully labelled and then dismantled before being transported to Arizona and reconstructed.

The current bridge is 283m long and is constructed from pre-stressed concrete ribs which form slender spans between concrete fin piers set into the River bed. Owing to the increase in vehicle traffic across the river, the design of the bridge was based upon function and durability and the bridge contrasts with the more ornate and decorative Victorian bridges found along the river.

Detail of the fin pier and concrete connection
The bridge contains 6 lanes for vehicle traffic and pedestrian routes connecting the south side of the River containing London Bridge station (underground and overground stations) and the newly built Shard Tower, with the north side of the River containing the City of London and Monument.

Traffic on the bridge with the Shard Tower on the left.

The elevation of the bridge is illuminated at night with red lights which date back to the Remembrance Day celebrations of 2004 where similar lights were placed on other bridges along the Thames. Directly underneath the bridge, blue lights are positioned within the fin piers and illuminate the river and and underside of the structure.

The bridge is owned and maintained by Bridge House Estates and the Greater London Authority.

Click here to link to the London Bridge Museum and Educational Trust .

London Bridge and the Shard Tower.
Underneath the bridge.
Detail of the concrete structure and riverside walkway
The bridge and the Shard Tower
View looking west from London Bridge.

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