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Urban Waterways: The Dynamics of Canal Architecture

Urban Waterways: The Dynamics of Canal Architecture

Architecture remains in constant tension with natural forces. Designed around gravity, climate, and time, buildings are always part of larger systems. Throughout the world, designers have tried to mitigate natural forces by constructing hybrid spaces and structures, artificial areas where nature meets the manmade. Embodying this relationship, canals reflect a desire to direct nature and its flows. Today, these fluid spaces are opening up to new programs, projects that explore modern life and urban vitality.

© Edmund Sumner© Anders Sune Berg© Filip Dujardin© Daniel Hopkinson+ 9

© Fangfang Tian
© Fangfang Tian

Constructed waterways have been used since the earliest days of recorded history, fueling commerce and connecting the world’s civilizations. Canals allowed cities to flourish, establishing famous epicenters like Venice, Suzhou, and Amsterdam. Over time, waterways began to resemble streets, lined with shops, restaurants, and homes. Canal architecture inherently deals with liminal conditions. While canals may be constructed through damming, dredging, or modifying existing river paths, these processes usually go hand-in-hand with broader urban development. Here, buildings and bridges are designed to accommodate varied flows, both human and material.

An architecture of thoroughfares, canal structures are resilient and carefully engineered to withstand the elements. Each of the subsequent canal projects across the world are made for unique spatial experiences along canals. Both intimate and expansive in scale, the designs are realized through lively sections and hierarchical layouts. They showcase novel solutions that celebrate the dynamics of contemporary canals and landscapes.

Yangjing Canal Pedestrian Bridge / Atelier Liu Yuyang Architects

© Fangfang Tian
© Fangfang Tian

Located at the eastern tip of the East Bund Mingshen Wharf, the Yangjing Pedestrian Bridge crosses over the Yangjing Canal where it flows into the Huangpu River, connecting the Mingshen Wharf with the Yangjing Park which is visually connected to the majestic long-span Yangpu Bridge. As a triangular-shaped truss structure bridge, its main bridge width is 10.75 meters, with a span of 55 meters and a total length of 140 meters.

Canal Corridor, King’s Cross / Townshend Landscape Architects

© John Sturrock
© John Sturrock

The Canal Corridor runs through the heart of the King's Cross development along the Regent's Canal. The Canal Corridor is a series of spaces, forming a linear park over 600m long that provides connections to and from the surrounding area. The Canal Corridor is part of the wider King's Cross redevelopment of 67 acres of redundant rail marshalling yards north of King's Cross and St Pancras Stations.

Cirkelbroen Bridge / Studio Olafur Eliasson

© Anders Sune Berg
© Anders Sune Berg

Cirkelbroen celebrates pedestrians. It reflects the daily life and intimacy that you find around the canal in the Christianshavn neighbourhood, its houseboats and sailing boats, the unique life on the ramparts. Copenhagen’s harbour was once a centre of maritime activity, and Cirkelbroen is a testimony to that history.

Merchant Square Footbridge / Knight Architects

© Edmund Sumner
© Edmund Sumner

As one of London’s newest movable footbridges, this project is located at the heart of Merchant Square, the mixed‐use waterfront development at Paddington Basin. Conceived by bridge specialists Knight Architects and structural engineers AKT II following a limited design competition in 2012, the 3m wide cantilevered structure spans 20m across the Grand Union Canal and is raised using hydraulic jacks with an action similar to that of a traditional Japanese hand fan.

The Floating Island / OBBA & Dertien12

© Kyungsub Shin
© Kyungsub Shin

Brugge in Belgium, also known as ‘Venice of the North’, is a city designated as a UNESCO World Heritage still showing the beautiful old section of the city in the Middle Age. The canal going through the city, along with the well-preserved structure, is the unique element of Brugge providing beautiful landscapes.

Media City Footbridge / WilkinsonEyre

© Daniel Hopkinson
© Daniel Hopkinson

In 1985, following the gradual decline of the docks, Salford Quays finally became the subject of an innovative regeneration plan, which brought attractions such as The Lowry and the Imperial War Museum North to the waterside. WilkinsonEyre contributed to the latest stage of its transformation with a footbridge as part of the BBC’s Media City development.

Canal Swimmer's Club / Atelier Bow-Wow + Architectuuratelier Dertien 12

© Filip Dujardin
© Filip Dujardin

Expanding on a tradition of Triennals for contemporary Belgian art in 1968,1971 & 1974, the city of Bruges decided to organize and start again a Triennale for contemporary art and architecture in Bruges in 2015. The team worked together on the project Canal Swimmer’s Club, a new multifunctional public space for meeting, relaxing, sunbathing and even swimming in the canals of Bruges.

About this author
Cite: Eric Baldwin. "Urban Waterways: The Dynamics of Canal Architecture" 25 Feb 2021. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/954873/urban-waterways-the-dynamics-of-canal-architecture> ISSN 0719-8884
© Filip Dujardin

城市水道:运河边建筑的多变性

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