This Hydraulic Bridge Opens And Closes Like A 30-Tonne Steel Fan

More than 200 years ago, this canal in London was a critical vein in the city’s industrial infrastructure, carting goods between Birmingham and London. The bridge that spans it today would have seemed utterly bizarre — but a lot has changed since 1801.

Like so many other post-industrial port cities, London has plenty of waterfront real estate in need of revitalisation, and the area around the once-booming Paddington Canal was no exception. Beginning in the early 2000s, the post-industrial neighbourhood became part of one of the largest development schemes London had ever seen — including new office buildings, residential blocks, and plenty of public spaces.

And since the canal itself remained — as well as the odd boat or two — there would need to be pedestrian bridges. First came one that rolled and unrolled like a potato bug, or like something out of an Indiana Jones movie, designed by Thomas Heatherwick in 2004. Now, another London design team has finished work on second pedestrian drawbridge — and this one is perhaps even wilder.

It’s called the Merchant Square Bridge, and it was designed by Knight Architects and AKT II, both based in London. Here’s how it works: The 20m long bridge is divided lengthwise into five distinct steel beams. Each beam is cantilevered out over the canal with a massive counterweight hidden in the ground at one side — these are controlled by a subterranean hydraulic jack.

When the bridge is down, the beams lock together to create a perfect 3m wide path across the canal, handrails and everything. When they’re raised, they create a twisted steel form, capped off by five steel-edged counterweights that rise out of the ground at one edge. The architects describe it as a “kinetic sculpture”.

For the ubiquity of the mechanism used to operate it, it’s got an ingenious amount of bang for the buck. With a few pieces of expertly crafted steel, some counterweights and a hydraulic jack, these designers built a bridge unlike any other in the world.

Pictures: Knight Architects