The recent announcement of the 2016 shortlist raised the possibility that Wilkinson Eyre could chalk up a record-breaking third win. The practice’s conversion of the Bodleian’s grade I Weston Library is a contender for this year’s award – giving the company the chance to become the only architect with a Stirling hat trick – and it prompted neaco to reflect on our contribution to its second win: the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, which scooped the prize in 2002.
The Gateshead Millennium Bridge is one of the most successful millennium projects. Linking the newly regenerated quaysides of Newcastle and Gateshead, it was the latest addition to the five bridges that make up the famous Tyneside skyline. An interesting design element which is probably escaping the attention of most crossing cyclists is right there under their noses or, to put it more accurately, under their tyre treads. The choice of cycleway decking played a part in the visual impact of the award winning design’s dramatic opening motion in which two arches – one forming the deck, the other supporting it – pivot around their springing point to allow shipping to pass beneath. Techdek, a versatile aluminium open grille system manufactured by neaco, offered a unique profile which allowed the appearance of the bridge to change with the angle of viewing.
Techdek was an ideal specification, offering a lightweight open-grille system that is visually attractive, free draining, and non-slip. Its T-bar profile has an excellent directional quality: in some views it is opaque, others transparent. One of the unique aspects of the bridge is its method of opening, which results in the deck arch being viewed in elevation against the sky and the other Tyne bridges when the bridge rotates open. Wilkinson Eyre wanted to use material, colour and transparency to visually illustrate the different functions of the pedestrian deck, a fabricated steel box, and the cycle deck. Techdek was used for the cycle deck and it helped to highlight the contrast.
The Techdek panels were laid square to the river and trimmed by the inner and outer curves of the cycle deck, following a parabola plan with constantly varying radii. Again, the decking profile complimented the design to help create a variation in appearance, though this effect is only evident to the eagle-eyed. Techdek was laid perpendicular to the main bearing line. In other words it runs parallel to the centreline of the river. This produced a secondary effect in the variation in the transparency of the material when viewed along or across the bearer ‘T’ bars. This means that the position of the moving cyclist relative to the bearer bars constantly varies between 45 and 90 degrees – it’s very subtle, but a very observant cyclist will notice they are at the centre of the river as they pass through the 90 degree mark. Gateshead cyclists should remember to take a quick glance and see the effect for themselves the next time they cross (as long as they keep one eye on the path ahead, of course!)
Wilkinson Eyre is one of only four practices to have won the Stirling Prize twice. Its first win came in 2001, for the Magna Centre in Rotherham.