London’s Iconic Bridges – Vol 1

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Having lived away from London for the last few years, I am occassionally asked where I am from. There is no simple answer but really the place I feel most at home is London.

Whether London is sweltering in 30 degree temperatures or chilled by the “Beast from the East” it is the location of many of my most happy memories and I suspect I shall return for good one day.

Architecturally, London has spent years reinventing itself. From the horrors of post War Modernist utilitarian blocks to the gleaming chrome and glass of the City and Canary Wharf, this New London is starting to look really good again. Developments that have been in planning for years are realised and have turned derelict Thamesside into smart, if expensive, but hugely desirable riverside addresses.

The Battersea Power Station development, with its new tube station due to open in 2020, is a fine example – see our previous post about BPS here – Battersea Power Station.

The Thames, that flows West to East through London, its name deriving from Celtic and Latin sources meaning “dark” gives London its name. It is suggested that the roots of  Londinium means the flowing river or the wide flowing unfordable river. Inevitably this has meant that the Northern and Southern banks of this wide river require to be crossed by bridges. The bridges of London have spectacularly contributed to London’s skyline.

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The earliest and perhaps the most historically important bridge is the iconic London Bridge. The present concrete and steel construction was opened in 1973 and its modest form belies a history of several important bridges over nearly 2000 years.

The City of London and its south bank neighbour of Southwalk, assisted by sand, gravel and clay on the adjacent banks, have been connected by some form of timber pontoon or rudimentary bridge since around 55AD. There followed a succession of bridges, including the Old London Bridge which stood for around 600 years, being finally replaced in the early 19th century and then again in 1973.

The rumour that a Oil millionaire, Robert McCulloch, mistakenly paid $2.4m in 1967 thinking that he was buying the more impressive Tower Bridge has been subsequently denied. London Bridge was moved stone by stone – at a further cost of $7m – to its new home at Lake Havasu City in the US State of Arizona.

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In my modern love story with London, Albert Bridge has played a key role. It is simply the most iconic and beautiful bridge.

Many will know that it’s frail. A sign warns marching soldiers to “break step” whilst crossing and rumour has it that the timbers are being severely affected by dog urine thought to come from those mutts who end up running around Battersea Park on its south side. When lit by 4000 LED lights against a London summer evening’s sky it is magical, so much so that our kids when toddlers always called it the “Cinderella Bridge”.

Albert Bridge stretches over the Tideway of the Thames joining Chelsea to the North with Battersea to the South. In 1860 Prince Albert – the then Queen’s Consort – suggested a Toll Bridge be built to alleviate the congestion experienced on two adjacent Bridges – Victoria and Battersea – the owner’s of the profitable latter being bought off by Act of Parliament and a takeover once Albert Bridge was completed. It opened as a toll bridge 1871 but the concept was not a commercial success.

It was designed as a cable-stayed bridge and built by Rowland Mason Ordish a master architectural engineer with the Royal Albert Hall and St Pancreas Railway Station on his CV. A dozen years after its initial construction Sir Joseph Bazalgette, famed for his work on London’s sewerage and water system, added elements of a suspension bridge to improve its soundness.

In 1973 two concrete piers were added for extra stability. Given its unusual history and its striking majesty the bridge now holds Grade 2 listed status from English Heritage.

A narrow bridge its struggle with motorized transport is ongoing. On both the North and South approaches there are bollards that sit, I am told six feet apart, that account for many dents on the doors of passing “Chelsea Tractors”!

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The most recently opened of London’s iconic bridges was initially opened in June 2000. Informally named the Millenium Bridge it is a steel suspension bridge built at a total cost of £18.2m from a design by a consortium comprising the Arup Group and the firms of architectural knights Norman Foster and Anthony Caro. It won a RIBA competition for selection. It spans the Thames between Bankside and the City – below St Paul’s Cathedral – giving the bridge the most engaging aspect across the river.

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Within days it had closed and became known as the “Wobbly Bridge” due to its alleged swaying of pedestrians – a recently understood phenomenon. Two years later after extensive modifications with the addition of viscous-fluid dampers to increase its stability, it was re-opened in February 2002.

Image Credits – used with grateful thanks – “London Bridge at Night” by Alison Day/Flickr. “Albert Bridge” – A Travellers View http://www.trover.com Joe Parnis and http://www.MrSmithsworldofphotography.com, Millenium Bridge – Foster & Partners

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Antoni Gaudí

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Living in Southern Europe I embrace a regular tendency to want to visit those national memorials celebrating the icons of local culture. One of the finest examples of this is the work of the Catalan Modernist architect, Antoni Gaudi. I am not talking solely about the trophy building, the outstanding and outrageous – if a little claustrophobic if you’ve ever tried to climb one of the spires – La Sagrada Família – but whilst magnificent there is much more to his wonderful work.

Gaudi’s place in the history of Architecture and his influence in a pantheon of modern art, including the likes of the fourteen year old Picasso, who moved to Barcelona in 1896 and into Gaudi’s circles, was immense. Gaudi’s work – much of which is now classed as World Heritage Sites stems from an era of the Renaixença (or Renaissance) in Barcelona of prosperity and vision. His work remains much appreciate by the likes of the writer Lorca and the artist, and fellow Catalan, Salvador Dali, as a vibrant legacy to this era.

Born 25 June 1852  the son, grandson and great-grandson of boiler workers from the Baix Camp (Catalonia). Growing up appreciating the fusion of copper and iron enabled Gaudi to claim that when he imagined in three dimensions, which became core to his fluid and evolutionary work. Indeed, he rarely created detailed plans preferring models of his proposed buildings. Similarly, he was enraptured by the perhaps conflicting mysteries of nature, especially that of his beloved Mediterranean coast, vegetarianism and his profound Roman Catholic faith.

After school, where he excelled in art, in 1868 Gaudi moved to Barcelona to study teaching followed by some time of compulsory military service which was punctuated by ill-heath. In 1878 Gaudi graduated from the Llotja School and the Barcelona Higher School of Architecture having funded his training by working as a draftsman to various notable but local architects.

Gaudí rise was meteoric. His first important commission was Manuel Vicens i Montaner, the Casa Vicens, a Moorish revival palace, which, after 130 years as private home, recently reopened to the public.

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Over the subsequent thirty years his work and Barcelona were synonymous. The City changed, and under the patronage of Eusebi Güell, Count Güell – a Catalan industrialist – fine examples of Gaudi’s best work can be seen including:

The Parc Güell:

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The Crypt at Colonia Güell

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Palau Güell

 

Casa Batlló – commissioned in 1904, by Josep Batlló, Gaudi’s task was to design and renovate this extraordinary property, to create a house like no other. Gaudi completed the project in 1906, becoming a masterpiece on Barcelona’s, Passeig de Gracia.

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The Casa Milà commissioned in 1906 by Pere Milà – a developer – and his wife, Roser Segimon, the widow of a wealthy Indiano coffee plantation owner.

In 1883, at the age of 31 Gaudi was appointed to the Sagrada Família project, after original designer quit, becoming Architect Director in 1894. From 1915 until his death on 10th June 1926, following being struck by a tram at the age of 73, Gaudí focussed his entire creative energy on the development and construction of this amazing building.

See below a model of the finished Basilica. Please also see this amazing video compiled for the UK newspaper The Daily Mail highlighting what the Sagrada Familia will look like at completion – please click the link – Sagrada Familia – Completed

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Said to be the most important piece of Gothic architecture in Europe since the Middle Aged, Gaudi combined Gothic and Art Nouveau forms together in the Sagrada Familia with naturalistic and flowing details of plantlife and cleaver uses of light throughout.

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I am also a massive fan of another Modernist Architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, about whom I posted on Aestheticons before, celebrating his body of iconic work – see here our previous post – Charles Rennie Mackintosh 

One of the few projects that Gaudi undertook away from Catalonia was the minaret-like country lodge – a fine example of his oriental influences – of El Capricho in Comillas (Cantabria, Northern Spain). It was built between 1883-85 as a summer home for a returning Indiano Maximo Diaz de Quijano (The Marquis of Comillas and Father in Law of Count Güell). Atypically for Gaudi’s work the stained glass, wood rafters and metal work are exemplary. The emblematic flowers, oriental and stylised ceramics look like they may have come straight from the pallet of Mackintosh. It’s thought that Gaudi and Mackintosh never met, though they died two years apart, but their naturalistic work replendent with great drama, vision and charm is firmly rooted in the same Modernist and Art Nouveau movements.

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Whilst we learn in Dan Brown’s excellent “Origin”, set almost exclusively in Gaudi’s Barcelona, that the Roman Catholic Church has not funded either Gaudi’s final resting place nor the building surrounding it, the Sagrada Família. The work on this fine building has been halted over the years whilst additional funds were collected. It is anticiapated that construction will be finally complete by 2026 to coincide with one hundredth anniversary of Gaudi’s death.

My hope is to have whetted your appetite to know more about Gaudi and his work. Two very useful resources are the following books, please click the Amazon link below the image in each case.

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Antonio Gaudi: Master Architect

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Gaudi: A Biography

Enjoy Dan Brown’s page-turner “Origin” by clicking the Amazon link below the image of the book 

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Origin: (Robert Langdon Book 5)

STOP PRESS: 

In April 2019 it was reported, after a two year dispute, that the Sagrada Famila, which has seen over 139 years of construction and is visited annually by 4.5m, had now received its final planning permission from Barcelona’s City Hall!

Ironically, the City Hall only agreed to pass the final permission for the Basilica, provided that the Catholic Church, which owns the site in Central Barcelona and has spectacularly failed to contributed towards the development costs of the wonderful Basilica, paid €34m towards local community projects.

The predictions are that 2026 is still an achievable completion date for the iconic UNESCO World Heritage Status building.

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Image Credits – with grateful thanks http://www.archdaily.com/Rory Stott, The Barcelona Tourist Association, The Gaudi Foundation and The Daily Mail