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River Hull Footbridge turns pedestrians into passengers


October 2, 2013

The River Hull Footbridge was completed in May of this year (Photo: Timothy Soar)

The River Hull Footbridge was completed in May of this year (Photo: Timothy Soar)

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To the east of Hull's city center lies a new footbridge connecting the English city's Old Town conservation area to an industrial space currently undergoing redevelopment. While most footbridges probably wouldn't warrant mention on Gizmag's pages, this particular footbridge, designed by architects McDowell+Benedetti, features a novel mechanical system that enables people to "ride" across the River Hull as the bridge slowly rotates to make way for water-based traffic.

The result of an international design competition originally held in 2005, the River Hull Footbridge consists of two main elements: a large circular hub allowing access from the west side, and a steel spine which cantilevers 35 m (114 ft) over the water of the River Hull. The steel spine supports both a long and gradual walkway, and a shorter, steeper walkway.

The bridge arches, thus allowing smaller river traffic to pass beneath without issue. However, when larger vessels require access, an electrical drive mechanism rotates the walkway section of the footbridge out of the way.

In what's thought to perhaps be a feature completely unique to the River Hull Footbridge, the pedestrians (or passengers) can actually wait on the structure as it rotates. Indeed, the west bank entrance has no barriers, and moves so slowly that people can step on and off as they wish. This process occurs at a sedate 0.15 m per second (0.5 ft per second), and is monitored by a human operator.

To allow movement, the footbridge's walkway section is set upon a series of wheels which in turn run atop a circular track, 16 m (52 ft) in diameter. A total of three electric gear units drive the footbridge mechanism forward, and thus pivot it around a central slew bearing, in a way likened to a railway turntable by McDowell+Benedetti.

The hub section contains a restaurant space, with a viewing platform on its roof. Artist Nayan Kulkarni was tasked with creating a sound installation to both enhance the experience of crossing the footbridge, and offer audible warning when it is about to go into action.

Lighting consultancy Sutton Vane Associates also played its part in providing a suitable atmosphere to the structure, by integrating lights into the balustrade that purposely allow light over onto the water at night, defining its shape to onlookers. There are also lights which synchronize with Kulkarni's sound installation.

The area surrounding the footbridge has not been neglected, with increased flood defenses, stepped gardens, and a central square all recently completed.

The River Hull Footbridge project was completed in May of this year, at a cost of £7 million (roughly US$11.3 million).

Source: McDowell+Benedetti

About the Author
Adam Williams Adam scours the globe from his home in North Wales in order to bring the best of innovative architecture and sustainable design to the pages of Gizmag. Most of his spare time is spent dabbling in music, tinkering with old Macintosh computers and trying to keep his even older VW bus on the road. All articles by Adam Williams

A circular "island" anchored to a post in the center of the river could rotate about the post from one side of the river to the other if the post were attached to the island eccentrically.


Sure is ugly, function over form I guess.

Jon Smith

It's pretty and interesting. It's also massive and that cantilevered part has to be much overbuilt compared to a conventional bridge. They could've built it high enough to pass ships under for half the price.


Looks like a lot of bother and expense for an over-built monstrosity. How about a high arching walkway, counter weighted elevators, or even catapults?

Phillip Noe

Ah yes, everything you guys say is true, but what you might not know is that Hull (actually, Kingston-upon-Hull, but let's not get picky) is competing hard for a few crumbs of handout from central government...sorry, for the privilege of labelling itself 'City of Culture' in 2017, so all sorts of silly 'artistic' things are going to be the new waste of money for a few years.

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