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Bridges in the Built Environment


Bridges not only connect people and places, they also attract attention and play an important role in strengthening the identity of the places they are located in. These physical ambassadors of the built environment embrace both engineering and creativity, and can play a valuable role in supporting urban regeneration.

During the first weekend of March 2021, the built environment in Swansea welcomed a new landmark as part of the City’s ambitious regeneration programme. This addition was the installation of the Copr Bay bridge, a pedestrian and cycle crossing that has been designed in partnership between renowned Swansea-born artist Marc Rees and award-winning architectural practice ACME. The bridge will be opened next year, and will improve access between the city, the new Digital Arena, the marina and coastline. It replaces what was a functional concrete pedestrian bridge, and instead the new bridge is bold, confident, and unapologetically taking its place over Oystermouth Road.

Watching the time lapse video of the bridge being installed, firstly I couldn’t help but be impressed at seeing it literally being installed as one complete piece, and then it made me think just how important bridges are in our built environment. Not just in their capacity to make life easier for us by improving how we connect with places, but also how their physical presence adds to the sense of identity of a place. Bridges seem to have special place in our psyche, maybe it’s the sense of wonder that comes when you cross over them, or the feats of engineering they often represent, or as in the case of Copr Bay bridge it could be the compelling vision of the future that embraces design and art to create a unique statement crossing?

Bridges are truly global, and many have achieved iconic status in their own right, which inturn sees them become valuable tourist attractions for their respective locations. Undoubtedly you’ll have experienced some of them on your travels. Personally, for example I’ve been fortunate enough to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and Paris’ Pont Neuf and drive across the Øresund Bridge between Denmark and Sweden. They each elicited a different emotion, and that itself seems to be part of the attraction of bridges, not only do they transform the way we live, they also tell their own stories.

Here in Wales we have a wonderful collection of bridges including innovative world firsts, and to help illustrate this I’m going to share with you my “Top 5”. I’m not suggesting these are the “best” bridges, instead these are the ones that, on my journey through the built environment, have had a significant impression on me, and I haven’t even physically experienced them all. Of course there are plenty of other bridges across Wales some of which are likely to be your favourites and do feel free to share yours on the Business News Wales Twitter feed.

My Top 5 Bridges in Wales

The Newport Transporter Bridge. This truly iconic structure is one of the last remaining transporter bridges in the world, and it’s good to know that it has been awarded £8.7m of National Lottery Heritage funding to pay for repairs and a new visitor centre. This bridge has always captivated me, and it has exceptional potential to become a world class tourist attraction for Newport. Hopefully the City can fully capitalise on this unique asset.

The Menai Bridge, Anglesea. Heralded as the first modern suspension bridge in the world, Thomas Telford’s Menai Suspension Bridge connecting Anglesea to Wales has a magnificent presence that is complemented by its neighbour, Robert Stevenson’s Britannia Bridge. Two world class bridges connecting one island, what an exceptional way to say “Welcome to Anglesea”.

South Stack Lighthouse Bridge. On a family holiday to North Wales, we crossed to South Stack using the 1964 steel cable truss bridge, and that really was an experience I’ll never forget. A year after our visit, in 1983, the bridge was closed due to safety concerns. Thankfully, in 1997 a replacement aluminum bridge was opened. When it’s safe to travel again, I’d happily encourage anyone to head to Anglsea and experience using this small bridge to take you on to the Stack to visit the lighthouse.

The First Severn Bridge.  Opened in 1966 the Bridge was the first in the world to use the revolutionary concept of a streamlined bridge deck and inclined hangers. Aside from its engineering firsts, the Bridge looked (and still does look) sleek, elegant even. This confident use of new construction techniques was consistent with a time when new visions for the future were being embraced, and the Bridge fully embodied the spirit of the time.

Copr Bay Bridge. I am adding the new, as yet unopened Copr Bay Bridge in Swansea to my “Top 5” as it represents a confident new addition to the City’s built environment and that in itself should be applauded. It’s easy to build a purely functional bridge, but such bridges don’t engage people, and as such they are a missed opportunity. The Copr Bay Bridge represents a creative solution that also has the potential to make a significant positive contribution to the City’s regeneration.

Large or small, new or old, bridges need to come in all shapes and sizes to meet their specific geographical locations. However, when they present the opportunity to be creative exceptional results can be achieved, and one of the most innovative I’ve ever seen is the Rolling Bridge. Completed in 2004 this pedestrian bridge the Grand Union Canal at the Paddington Basin in London and was designed by the Heatherwick Studio. The entire bridge curls up to become a work of art, and then uncurls to become a bridge, could you ask for more from any bridge?