Cody Dock is a huge ex-industrial dock located on the banks of the River Lea overlooking Canning Town. The dock is now home to a dynamic artistic community who are in the process of transforming the place from dereliction into an oasis of creativity and production.
Central to this project is reopening the dock to the Lea’s tidal waters so it can once more be used by boats. This requires the removal of a dam and the introduction of an opening footbridge.
The new footbridge is one of the final missing links unlocking the ‘Leaway’ footpath and cycle route, a riverside green corridor which runs from Hertfordshire, through Waltham Abbey and the Olympic Park, all the way to the Thames.
Since its decommissioning in the 1980s, the dock lain largely forgotten. In 2009 it was rediscovered and taken on by Gasworks Dock Partnership who, with the help of more than 5,000 volunteers, spent 12 years clearing, decontaminating and restoring the historic dock.
In 2014 Thomas Randall-Page approached Simon Myers of Gasworks Dock Partnership who had planned a traditional bascule bridge for the site. With the backup of engineer Tim Lucas, he made a counter proposal inspiring Myers to take a leap of faith with an unproven concept for a totally new typology of bridge.
Raising, swinging, sliding, folding and tilting ... the solutions to the challenge of the opening bridge are many and varied. Seeing the potential for public spectacle inherent in the opening of a bridge, Randall-Page set about adding to this long established list of motions.
‘Nobody expects a square to roll, I find a childlike joy in this element of surprise.’ Thomas Randall-Page, designer
Rolling along to the channel it crosses, this unique bridge design owes much to its Victorian forebears. They knew that moving large heavy structures efficiently requires that they are part of balanced systems, and this design works on the same principle of equilibrium.
Toothed portals at each end of the bridge roll on undulating rails cast into the concrete abutments on either bank.
Ballast fills the top of each square portal, countering the weight of the bridge deck that connects them. This symmetry allows the whole bridge structure to smoothly roll through 180 degrees to a fully inverted position facilitating the passage of boats back and forth from the river to the dock.
‘The idea for an opening bridge with a single moving part – the bridge itself – sounds simple but as you can probably guess, was actually really hard to do. We are proud to be part of the fantastic team that made it work.’ Tim Lucas, structural engineer
So finely balanced is this system that the 12-tonne bridge requires no motors or electricity to operate it. Instead, much like a canal lock, the opening motion is manually powered via two hand winches.
Constructed in south London from weathering steel and oak, the bridge design aims to be understated in its rest position but celebratory and playful in its movement creating a spectacular and memorable event when operated.
‘This was an extremely complex and challenging project, with a tight budget and tight tolerances as well as an untested form. It was a treat to realise this with an exceptional and collaborative team – there is a lot of pride in the outcome from everyone involved in fabricating and installing it.’ David Knight, contractor/engineer
Lightweight balustrades woven from reinforcement bar bound the deck on either side. When taller vessels need to pass, these elements fold down flat to the deck before the bridge is opened.
Part of an ambitious community-led regeneration project, it is hoped this revolutionary bridge will become an important landmark and a symbol of the dynamic creative community which is growing here.