London Millennium Bridge
"Lateral suspension" is used for support, provided by eight laid steel cables, four on each side of the bridge, that gently drape between the pylons and tie back to the river banks. The pedestrian walkway rests on steel transverse arms that hang on the cables. Viewed from any angle, or from either bank, the effect is elegantly spare.
When it opened in 2000, the Millennium Bridge was the first new river crossing in central London since the completion of the landmark Tower Bridge, farther east, in 1894.
Stabilizing the Bridge
The Millennium Bridge was built at a cost of more than £18 million, and the cost of corrections (which have been borne by Arup) are estimated at an additional £5 million. Movement has been mitigated using two techniques: mass dampers and shock absorbers.
An early proposal was to add more supporting pylons, which would have ruined the buoyant esthetic that Foster sought. Thankfully, the dampers and shock absorbers do their job without being easily visible, taking away nothing from Foster’s "blade of light."
The viscous dampers are installed in the central span between the deck and the transverse arms. These X-shaped stiffeners counter lateral movement. Tuned mass dampers with springs are placed between the underside of the walkway and the steel transverse arms below it. A total of 37 viscous dampers and 54 tuned mass dampers were placed across the span.
This past January, with corrections in place, more than 2000 local architects and engineers were enlisted to test the bridge while it was monitored for movement. They walking briskly across it, then slowly, then stopped and started at mid-span.
On the day of its public reopening, crowds once again thronged to the Millennium Bridge. Walking from St. Paul’s to the Tate and back again, I detected not the slightest sway — the bridge seemed rock solid.
The bridge's commissioning pains remind us how important and still potentially unpredictable human factors are in any type of engineering for people. Now well-adjusted after its unexpected period of "beta-testing," the radically slender construction is settling into the London scene.
Do the successful corrections mean the bridge has lost part of its charm? Is it now a Tower of Pisa without its lean? I don’t believe so. The Millennium Bridge and its initial troubles have just reminded us that even with the assurance of technology, we also need humility to glide on a blade of light.
Michael J. Crosbie is editor-in-chief of Faith & Form, an associate with Steven Winter Associates, and a contributing editor to ArchitectureWeek.
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