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October 29, 2004

Thomas Heatherwick's Folding Footbridge


It's in Northwest London, a wonderful solution to the problem of a creating an elegant, retractable bridge in a tight space.

A bookofjoe Design Award 2004 Winner.

Pilar Viladas wrote about it in this past Sunday's New York Times magazine.

Here's the story.

London Bridge Is Curling Up

It isn't every day that you see a steel bridge that lifts upward like a trained seal standing on its front flippers and curls itself into a ball - or, more precisely, an octahedron.

The almost-40-foot-long remote-controlled hydraulic bridge - which spans an offshoot of the Grand Union Canal - is one of three that were commissioned for Paddington Basin, a mixed-use development in Northwest London.

Popularly known as the Rolling Bridge, it was designed for foot traffic by Thomas Heatherwick, a 34-year-old Briton whose multidisciplinary design studio has ventured into the realms of sculpture and architecture.

''The job of a bridge is to get out of the way,'' Heatherwick explains, but he says that most drawbridges look ''broken'' when angled in the air.

''We were looking for something more transformative.''

And more theatrical.

Heatherwick deliberately made the bridge structure appear ordinary, so that when it lies flat you won't give it a second look - until, that is, it begins its graceful gymnastics.

''How it works is the extraordinary aspect of it,'' he says.

Heatherwick loves to confound expectations.

In 1997, he designed a window display for Harvey Nichols in London that kept going, right onto the sidewalk.

He is just a few weeks away from completing the tallest sculpture in England, outside a stadium in Manchester.

A bit taller than the Statue of Liberty minus its base, it has been compared to a giant porcupine, and because people will drive under it, Heatherwick sees it as a piece of urban infrastructure.

On a much smaller scale, his tote bag for Longchamp features a spiral zipper that allows the bag to expand.


This is thoroughly in keeping with Heatherwick's belief that ''it's not enough to make a nice shape - it has to challenge in some way.''

October 29, 2004 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


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i am thinking about putting your folding footbridge in an project i am currently doing and wanted to know the dimensions to the bridge if u could help thanks.

Posted by: simon | Jan 23, 2007 8:11:01 AM

The folding bridge is amazing! I am looking at it for my A-Level graphics, and the form and general design has made me think of some really wacky ideas.


Posted by: Jordan Box | Jun 14, 2006 6:16:52 AM

Dear Thomas Heatherwick,
I would like to in form you that I have recently seen your new design of the Bleigiessen. I would like to ask for a favour,as I would like to use some of your tiny glass balls to create bubbles with them for my GCSE work.I would like to create bubbles with the balls and spikes to create the nice effect you did in the Bleigiessen.Can you please help me with this by supplying me with them and sikes or even make the bubbles for me or instructions.

Thank you,
Emmanuel Sanni

Posted by: Emmanuel Sanni | Oct 18, 2005 7:30:55 AM

A memorable and seminal work.

Posted by: Dante Leonelli | Mar 9, 2005 3:19:29 PM

Please give me the exact address of the Folding Footbridge so we can go visit it.

Posted by: Gay Wilson | Jan 12, 2005 2:03:15 PM

Fantastic piece of functional art,loving your inspirational work!

Posted by: Alison Jeffery | Jan 12, 2005 8:44:35 AM

Saw your interview last week on The Culture Show. I hope we see many more examples in this country of your wonderful design solutions to practical problems. I wish you every success in the future.
Jack Reynolds

Posted by: jack reynolds | Nov 23, 2004 1:07:37 PM

After seeing the bridge on television, i was amazed at the sheer inventivness of the project.
What a great idea a rolling brige, which could easily fit into a very large handbag once curled up like a snail

Posted by: Jonathan | Nov 22, 2004 5:59:46 AM

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