25 August 2019

The Rolling Bridge That Curls

Something strange goes on every Friday in Paddington Basin, London.

At first sight it looks just like any other normal bridge.  Spanning the Grand Union Canal in Paddington Basin, London – the minimal design could be looked upon as somewhat plain and boring.  But once a week the Rolling Bridge as it is known does something that makes jaws drop.  Slowly at first, something remarkable happens.

Each and every Friday at midday the bridge rolls – literally.  It consists of eight sections – triangular in shape – that are hinged at ground level.  Concealed in vertical posts in the parapets of the bridge are pistons.  These pistons collapse the two part links that connect the section and the bridge can roll up.  It is the only bridge of this kind in the world and although it is known as a rolling bridge this is something of a misnomer.  By rights it should be called a curling bridge (and is by many).

To all intents and purposes the bridge spends the week looking like any other conventional bridge with little to separate it from its steel and timber peers.  However, the twelve meter long bridge must allow the passage of boats and so on the mark of midday each week it curls up until its two edges join – something like a wood and steel caterpillar.

While the concept of movable bridges is hardly new, this is the only bridge in the world that curls and retracts in this manner.  It was designed by Thomas Heatherwick in 2004.  An English designer, Heatherwick is probably best known for the sculpture of 180 giant spikes in Manchester known as B of the Bang.  The rolling bridge is rather more low key but is something that he will probably be remembered for centuries down the line.

So, although the name is The Rolling Bridge it is in fact one which curls – and beautifully so.  The term rolling bridge was first used in Victorian times and describes a retractable drawbridge.  The rolling bridges of the world are not hinged and are stay horizontal when they are retracted inside the gates of a building.  This bridge curls – and as such is unique on the planet.

The bridge won an award – the British Structural Steel Design Award in 2005 and has become a favorite landmark around the Paddington Basin area of London.  It was gaining a crowd each Friday morning when, in 2008, it broke down.  Fortunately it has now been repaired and is drawing a weekly crowd of fans once again.

Here is a short profile of the bridge and of its creator, Designer and Architect Thomas Heatherwick.

Image Credit