Thomas Heatherwick’s Garden Bridge project has been under fire since plans were announced in 2013, drawing skepticism of the fairness of the competition process, and even being called “nothing but a wasteful blight.” Last month, London's new mayor Sadiq Khan gave a lukewarm endorsement of the project, noting that since £37.7m of the £60m allocated by the government has already been spent, scrapping the project now would end up costing taxpayers more than going forward with it.
The current predicament has inspired architects Allies and Morrison to design an alternative option – one that could both save the taxpayers money and create a new greenway spanning the Thames. Many of the complaints directed toward the original design have been associated with the cost of building a new bridge that would serve limited transportation needs; Allies and Morrison eliminate this issue by simply placing a garden pathway onto an existing piece of infrastructure, the nearby Blackfriars Bridge.
The historic Blackfriars Bridge has connected the north and south banks of the Thames since 1869. Its current iteration features wide sidewalks along both its east and west lanes, as well as a concrete median. The architects have combined these to create one 14 meter wide pathway on the west side, enough room for a pedestrianized garden of similar size to the proposed Garden Bridge.
The route would offer dramatic views of St. Paul’s Cathedral to the east and Westminster to the west, and existing parapets could be transformed into what Allies and Morrison describe as “lovely seating nooks, riverside alcoves for a sandwich at lunchtime, a break from a jog or a place for families to gather.” Vehicular and bicycle lanes would be shifted, but preserved, maintaining the current level of traffic accommodations.
In total, the project would provide 40,000 square feet of new green space, and could be constructed at a fraction of the cost of a new bridge. Unlike the original Garden Bridge proposal, which would be closed off up to 12 days a year for private events, Blackfriars Bridge Garden would be public and accessible at all hours, every day of the year, and would be seamlessly integrated into existing circulation paths of the city.
In the words of the architects, “A garden over the Thames is a tantalising vision, but it’s one that does not require an entirely new bridge. We could simply use one that is already there.”