“Historic maps show a bridge existed on this site in the 1800s and linked the centre of Copenhagen to its defensive ramparts, some of which still exist,” explains Simon Roberts, Associate Director of international architecture practice WilkinsonEyre.
The firm has just seen its plans for the new Lille Langebro cycle and pedestrian bridge brought to life. Adding yet more evidence to argue the case that Denmark’s charming capital, Copenhagen, is the world’s foremost pedal-powered metropole, the striking structure spans the city’s harbour, helping complete a looped route through the downtown area, improving access between the busy Vester Voldgade thoroughfare and iconic Christianshavn and Langebrogade quaysides.
“It was always our intention that the bridge should continue this circular ring, encompassing the city. So rather than doing it on a really straight alignment we wanted to pick up on the circular nature of the route,” Roberts continues, before explaining how the BLOX building is also close by. A new cultural centre, comprising public realms, playgrounds and— fittingly— the Danish Architecture Center, the whole scheme is part of a masterplan to breathe new life into what was an all-but-forgotten area.
Nevertheless, this city is one of northern Europe’s most prestigious and historic, with Kodak moments around every corner. As such even when forming this positive, large scale redevelopment there were still significant issues posed by neighbouring landmarks.
“Langebro, the bridge next to ours, is a listed structure, so the client [Realdania By & Byg] was very keen that we didn’t overshadow the appearance of that. So our bridge had to stay very low in its alignment and its appearance,” Roberts explains.
This was far easier said than done. Original designs placed the structure of the bridge below the quayside deck to achieve the necessary harmony, but this threatened to impede boats intending to pass underneath. The issue was overcome by adding width span and curvature, helping raise the height in the centre to allow clearance for vessels, in turn offering bridge users some much need protection from the elements.
“Really we spent a lot of time trying to create graceful fluid curves,” Roberts recalls. “We were focusing on trying to get the edge of that curve as crisp as possible, which was never going to be easy. The guys at Hollandia, the same people who built [London’s] Gherkin, did a great job making that happen.”
The circular route Lille Langebro now forms part of directly inspired its clean lines and curves. In turn, that curvature is designed to highlight the directional flow of traffic by providing physical and visual continuity. All of which is accentuated by the primary steelwork’s bright white hues, contrasting the dark greys employed to minimise the impact of the pier arms and supporting structure from the perspective of those using the waterway.
The confident but tasteful aesthetics continue in the architectural lighting. By displaying these outwards, the upper surfaces of the two structural wings are illuminated, creating a continual band of light from one side of the quay to the other.
Comparatively, the central mechanism that allows for the structure to swing open for larger marine traffic is hidden in plain sight, but equally impressive. The work of Eadon Consulting and structural engineers BuroHappold, the closed-loop system— involving one top pin and bottom hammerhead— works in such a way that as one part pushes the other pulls back. The connection is, therefore, more rigid while allowing structural depth to be kept to a minimum.
This marriage of contemporary design and cutting edge engineering has resulted in a truly striking accomplishment. It’s a modern crossing that compliments the 21st Century elements of its surrounds, with local architectural firm Urban Agency responsible for seamless landscaping on the quaysides. But then it doesn’t neglect to pay respect to the area’s centuries-old history, it’s a future-proof solution to the issue of mobility in a constantly evolving and growing city. It’s also much needed if traffic numbers are much to go by
“Langebro has seen a huge increase in cyclists— last year 40,000 per day were coming over the crossing. So the purpose of ours was to try and take as much of that soft, squishy traffic off that bridge and onto ours, making it a safer environment for them,” says Roberts, going on to explain just how crucial offering more space for two-wheels is to commuters in this particular city. “Cycling is a massive thing in Copenhagen, they pride themselves on being the cycling city for the world. I saw something the other day actually; they now have more bikes in the city than cars.”