The world’s greenest bridges

Anna Skovgaard Pedersen

With all the fuss about Thomas Heatherwick’s Garden Bridge you would be forgiven for thinking that the concept was new. The truth is that green bridges which contribute in different ways to a sustainable environment can be found in cities around the world. Heatherwick’s bridge may be the first garden bridge to span a river, but take a look at 5 of the ‘greenest’ bridges here:

Garden Bridges:

The Promenade Plantée, Paris

ParisImage: Payton Chung

Joanna Lumley’s idea of a public garden bridge is nothing new. The concept of walking along an elevated park in the middle of an urban environment was realised in Paris in the late 1980’s and early 90’s.

Based on a design by architect Philippe Mathieux and landscape architect Jacques Vergely, the Promenade Plantée was built on top of an old railway track which had fallen into disrepair. Instead of tearing it down, the Parisians decided to deck the 2.8 mile stretch with flowers and trees which made it the first green space constructed on an elevated viaduct.

The Parisian parkway was the only major elevated public park in the world until 2009 when the city of New York opened the first stretch of the famous High Line.

The High Line, New York  

High LineImage: Urban Land Institute 

Not to be outdone by the French, New York created the High Line; an old railway track running through Manhattan which attracts nearly 5 million visitors annually. The popular park, which stretches 1.45 miles and consists of more than 210 different plant species, was designed by James Corner Field Operations, Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Piet Oudolf.

Besides reusing a stretch of disused industrial infrastructure as a public park, the High Line also functions as a green roof, reducing the amount of storm-water along the park’s path by allowing rainwater to drain into the planted areas. However, bridges don’t have to be planted with trees and flowers to be considered green. Other bridges use sustainable technologies to help lessen their impact on the environment.

Solar Power:

Kurilpa Bridge, Brisbane

Kurilpa BridgeImage: Andrew Sutherland

Brisbane has made good use of all the 2800 hours of sunshine the city enjoys on average every year by building the world’s largest solar powered footbridge. The 470m long pedestrian and bicycle bridge designed by Cox Rayner Architects and Arup opened back in 2009 and features a sophisticated LED lighting system which lights up the night sky with different effects. Solar panels along the bridge provide 75%- 100% of the power required for the fancy lightshow with any spare power returning to the main grid. This sustainable feature will save Brisbane around 37.8 tonnes of carbon emissions every year which makes this bridge one of the greenest bridges in the world.

Blackfriars Bridge, London 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAImage: Mike T

With only an average of around 1550 hours of sunshine annually, London wouldn’t seem like the ideal place to build a solar powered bridge. However, what the city lacks in sunshine hours, it makes up for in size. In 2014 the Blackfriars Bridge across the River Thames became the world’s largest solar powered bridge after having 4400 photovoltaic panels installed on the roof. These panels will provide up to half of the energy for the London Blackfriars station and will cut the station’s carbon emissions by more than 500 tonnes every year.

The Future:

Copenhagen Harbor LM Project, Copenhagen

Copenhagen bridgeImage: Steven Holl Architects

In Copenhagen Steven Holl Architects have taken the green bridge concept to the next level by combining it with office space. The project, which won a competition back in 2008 to design a new centrepiece for the Danish harbour, features some interesting sustainable solutions. Two skyscrapers on each side of the harbour will incorporate glass curtain walls shaded by photovoltaic solar screens while also including seawater heating and cooling systems and radiant floor heating. However, the most interesting aspect of the project has to be the pedestrian bridge which connects the two towers. The walkway rises 65 meters above the harbour and is lined with enough wind turbines on the roof to light all the building’s public spaces which include cafés and galleries.