Opening this weekend, Norway’s new Hålogaland Bridge is a living example of a principle most architects and engineers seem to agree on; while bridges need to be functional, safe and durable, they should also be elegant and beautiful. When done right, bridges become a symbol of their location. Done wrong, bridges are like graffiti on their cities.
By COWI and DISSING+WEITLING architecture
Think of San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge, Sydney’s Harbour Bridge or the romantic Charles Bridge in the Czech capital of Prague. These are all landmarks, or symbols of their location, as British Civil Engineer and acclaimed Bridge Designer, Ian Firth, calls them.
Giving a passionate Ted Talk earlier this year, Firth, a consultant with COWI, made one point clear; bridges should be beautiful.
“We tend to design for 100 years plus. They’re going to be there for an awfully long time. Nobody is going to remember the cost. Nobody will remember whether it overran a few months. But if it’s ugly or just dull, it will always be ugly or dull,” Ian Firth says.
Director of Bridges from DISSING+WEITLING architecture, Poul Ove Jensen, who is a long-standing architect colleague adds:
“Bridge design is a synthesis of practical requirements, analyses and logic, but at a certain point in the work process, the analyses no longer hold all the answers and so you must rely on your experience and intuition and make subjective choices. These choices are what can cause the difference between a common bridge and an excellent bridge."
A Scandi-cool design
In close collaboration with Danish architects, DISSING+WEITILING architecture, COWI has made a trademark out of adding a certain touch of Scandi-cool to an impressive portfolio of international bridge projects, like the Stonecutters Bridge in Hong Kong, Denmark’s Great Belt Link and – most recently – Norway’s Hålogaland Bridge. All of which are designed together with DISSING+WEITLING architecture.
“The location and special functional requirements such as a narrow bridge deck and long bridge span offer a unique opportunity to achieve a distinctive and instantly recognisable look for a suspension bridge, offering a potential icon to the region”, says Poul Ove Jensen.
Theatre of war - and ore
Crossing the deep waters of Rombaksfjorden, a wildly scenic fjord in the municipality of Narvik in northern Norway, the Hålogaland Bridge is situated more than 1,000 kilometres north of Norway’s capital, Oslo, clear of the Arctic Circle and surrounded by snow-capped mountains. This is a region full of natural drama – and beauty – known for rough weather, strong winds and long, dark winters.
This is also where the infamous Battle of Narvik took place during the initial stages of WW2 and where hundreds of tons of mined rock arrive every day on customised supertrains – led by some of the strongest locomotives in the world – from Swedish mines across the border.
Working under Northern Lights
The Hålogaland Bridge – or Hålogalandsbrua in Norwegian – is currently the 22nd longest suspension bridge in the world. 179 metres above sea level, from the top of one of the bridge’s two elegant A-shaped towers, The beauty of the bridge has affected his team partner from COWI, Chief Project Manager Erik Sundet, who has worked on the project for more than a decade.
“Opportunities to work on projects like this one comes very rarely for an engineer – and when they do – they block your calendar for so many years that you do not have time for many other projects on the same scale. In that sense, the Hålogaland Bridge will always be my bridge. This summer I brought my family here to show them the bridge and what I have been working on for so many years," Sundet says.
All year round, dozens of giant cargo ships are anchored up and spread out on the fjord, patiently waiting to sail away with shipments to distant mills. Aiming to create an icon in this already iconic landscape, the architects and engineers chose to go for a less-is-more approach, “camouflaging” the bridge in to the surrounding backdrop.
The bridge is located in a dramatic and magnificent scenery, and for this reason, it has been our goal to design the bridge in respect of the natural surroundings. The anchor blocks are recessed in the hills and the only visible parts are the large concrete cones that receive the cables”, Poul Ove Jensen from DISSING+WEITLING architecture says.
Making beautiful bridges is our duty
Rising 179 metres above sea level, the Hålogaland Bridge blends in with the mountainous scenery and the neighbouring peak, the Sleeping Queen. Dubbed “the most beautiful bridge in the world' by local residents and engineering aficionados alike, the Hålogaland Bridge has a main span of 1145 metres and is Norway's second longest suspension bridge.
If you ask Ian Firth, this is the type of bridge, the world needs more of.
“Beauty enriches life and enhances our well-being. Ugliness and mediocrity does the complete opposite. If we go on building mediocre, ugly environments – and I believe we are becoming numb to that stuff – it’s something like large-scale vandalism, which is completely unacceptable,” the Bridge Designer adds.
In his recent Ted Talk, Ian Firth highlights another Norwegian project, still on the drawing board. The Bjørnafjord Bridge, also designed in collaboration with DISSING+WEILTING architecture, will use technology from the offshore industry to cross another deep – and wide – Norwegian fjord, the Bjørnafjorden. One of the alternatives investigated was a multispan suspension bridge, the very first of its kind.
The bridge concept that now is being developed is to be a pontoon bridge crossing the 5 km wide fjord. A cable stayed bridge with a span of 450m at the end provides a shipping lane for large vessels to pass under the bridge. If this alternative goes through, it will be by far the longest floating bridge in the world in open waters.
The previous investigations of these bridges prove that there will be no limit as to where in the world engineers will be able to build bridges and help communities grow together.
“The technology is there,” Ian Firth says.
“Now it is up to the people that procure our bridges, to make sure they look good,” he adds.
Jesper Henriksen, Partner and Project Architect for the Hålogaland Bridge as well as the Bjørnafjord Bridge, from DISSING+WEITLING architecture, adds:
“To us as Architects, it has been a great pleasure working in continuity with these two major Norwegian bridges. The process of designing and constructing The Bjørnafjord Bridge has begun at the same time as the Hålogaland Brdige is about to open. The bridges are representing different constrains but are both demanding a substantial understanding of environment and user needs.