Barcelona is covering a road bridge with concrete that eats pollution

Image: BCQ.

Converting horrible bits of concrete transport infrastructure into green spaces has become a bit of a trend recently. In Hamburg, there's talk of turning a motorway into a park; then there are the dozens of attempts to piggyback on the success of New York's High Line by creating pedestrian walkways and parks.

But one Barcelona bridge is trying something a little different: it's keeping its cars, but introducing a host of sustainable green technologies to make it much, well, nicer.

The Sarajevo bridge is a member of what is surely the grimmest category of urban infrastructure: a road bridge over another road, to the north of the city centre. At the moment, it looks like this:

Under a plan commissioned by the city government and developed by architects BCQ, however, it's due to be transformed. It'll still be a road bridge, but its surface will be paved with pollution-eating "photocatalytic concrete". The pedestrian walkways will be widened so they can be used as plazas, while greenery-covered walls and a canopy will shield users from the noise of the six-lane road below. The bridge will also be entirely self-sufficient, with solar panels on the bridge powering LED lights.

Here's a mock-up of the new bridge as seen from the road below:

And a cross-section:

Click for a larger image.

There's no completion date for this project, which is one of a number of schemes intended to green currently unattractive bits of Barcelona. But it does have the backing of the city government, so unlike so projects that come with cool concept images attached it may actually happen.

We're most fascinated by the smog-sucking concrete, which uses the energy of the sun as it strikes the road to break down pollutants into neutral substances like water, oxygen and nitrates and sulfates; these stick to the surface, and are later washed away by rain.

This probably won't make much of a dent in the pollution produced by the roaring highway below, but every little helps. 

All images: BCQ Architects.

 
 
 
 

Where exactly are the Wombles named after? We made a map

The Wombles playing Glastonbury in 2011. This isn't one of our joke captions, it's a genuine description of what the picture shows. Image: Getty.

 The Wombles may famously be ‘of’ Wimbledon Common, but each Womble is also connected to somewhere else in the world, by their names.

Creator Elizabeth Beresford named almost all of the Wombles after places: hence Great Uncle Bulgaria, Orinoco (as in the river), Tobermory (as in the town in the Hebrides) and so forth.

And so, we’ve put all the ones we could find on an interactive map:

The blue pins are the main characters, the yellow ones appear only in the books, and the green ones appear only in TV or film adaptations. 

The particular derivation of Womble names is not always obvious - Hoboken, an American womble is, confusingly, named not for the New Jersey city of Hoboken, but for the Antwerp district from which it borrowed its name. Wellington is named not for New Zealand’s capital, but for Wellington School in Somerset, which Beresford’s nephew attended. And some Womble names that don’t sound like places names actually are: Bungo derives from Japan’s historical Bungo Province, now called Ōita Prefecture.

The reasoning behind all this, according to Wombles canon, is that a Womble does not get a name until they have come of age, at which point they pick one they like the sound of from an old atlas belonging to Great Uncle Bulgaria. (Of the variety of things I’ve seen “left behind” on Wimbledon Common I’ve never come across an atlas, but artistic licence and all that.)

There are apparently some exceptions to this Womble naming rule: Stepney, an East London womble added in the ‘90s, picked his name from a London A-Z. Livingstone, a hot air ballooning womble, is so old he forgot his original name and borrowed that of the explorer Dr Livingstone. And there’s also a Cousin Botany. Who is named after botany. Because he does botany. Obviously.

Chief musical Wombleteer Mike Batt has apparently been working on a computer-animated Womble revival for the last few years, but he hasn’t yet revealed whether we can expect to see any new Wombles with hip modern names like “Silicon Valley”, “Midtown” or “Garden Bridge”.


To find your Womble name, tweet the name of a place you’ve found in an old atlas, followed by your credit card details.

Ed Jefferson works for the internet and tweets as @edjeff.

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