The 12 most ridiculous designs for the new Battersea bridge

So. Many. Questions. Image: Nine Elms to Pimlico Bridge competition.

Update 17/3: The four shortlisted designs have now been announced - scoll down to the bottom to see which made it through.

London, it seems, is about to get a new bridge. Not the Garden Bridge: since that'll be closed to cyclists, and barely open to pedestrians, we're not really counting that as a bridge. No, the new river crossing we're talking about is the one that'll connect the Nine Elms development with Pimlico across the Thames.

To select a design for the new bridge the council has held a competition. This, if the 74 renderings released on the competition's website today are anything to go by, aimed to select the most inspiring, most beautiful, and most totally batshit crazy design for a bridge it possibly could. 

1. The one which is definitely not a bridge

Helpful tip for architects: you can't just draw squares on a photo and call it a design. 

2. The one like a nightmarish Escher painting

Where does the floor end? Where do those stairs go? Why are the people so small? Why are the leaves transparent? Are those boys about to drown??

3. The one that's a spoon  

A touching tribute to London's culinary culture. Also, apparently, a permanent rainbow. 

4. The one that could water your lawn

It's the Millenium Bridge with sprinklers attached.

5. The one with all the fairylights

"How can we spice this up? Let's cover it in glittery lights, like the room of an 18-year-old university student on a budget."  

6. The one inspired by Windows Media Player visualisations

We're pretty sure this is the intro to a mid-noughties Ed Sheeran song. 

7. The one that's a circle

Because why cross the river directly when you could go on a 200m diversion? After all, it's the journey that counts, not the destination. Unless you're going to work, or home, or anywhere else vaguely important. 

8. The dumbbell 

We get it, it's so the cyclists don't have to carry their bikes down the stairs. But it just looks silly. 

9. The one with the segregation

Cyclists and pedestrians, kept apart as they should be. There's something oddly touching about those people desperately trying to scale the wall, though. 

10. The one that's a scribble 

No idea. Literally, none.

11. The one with the... thing  

What even is that? A lift? A furnace? We're hoping the bit on the right is a pedestrian catapult, and those tunnels are filled with cushions.

12. The one which will turn all of London to wood 

A magic bridge.

...And a bonus one (definitely not necessitated by the fact that we can't count):

The one that takes you back to the 1800s 

It's an ambitious project, certainly.

Upadate 17/3: The shortlisted designs, along with the designers in question, have now been announced. Sadly, all four look pretty normal compard to the designs listed above.

1. The one supported by a pair of chopsticks - Marks Barfield Architects

2. The one where it's too misty to see anything - Robin Snell & Partners

3. The one that's a long and winding road - AL_A 

 

4. The one with the pretty bows - Hoskins Architects


The four winning teams will now further develop their proposals before resubmitting them for judging, and a winner should be announced in the autumn. 

All images courtesy of the Nine Elms to Pimlico Bridge competition.

 
 
 
 

Eritrea’s Modernist architecture: a striking reminder of years of oppression

Asmara’s futuristic Fiat Tagliero Building (1938) was built to resemble an aircraft. Image: David Stanley/Creative Commons.

Those with an eye for architecture will notice something peculiar when visiting Eritrea’s capital, Asmara. Dotted around the city are exceptional examples of Modernist architecture, a style that emerged in Europe during the interwar period. Rejecting gratuitous ornateness in favour of minimalism, function and rationalism, the style grew to dominate 20th century design. But it didn’t arrive in an east African country in a remotely benevolent way.

The huge continent was carved up in the span of just a few decades, in an era of history known as the “Scramble for Africa”. Described in German as torschlusspanik, meaning “panic of a closing gate”, European powers grabbed as much as they could to prevent their rivals gaining the upper hand.

Having consolidated his power in Italy, fascist dictator Mussoulini looked to Africa to expand what he saw as the new Roman Empire. It was in this context that the country seized this stretch of coast along the Red Sea that became Eritrea. And it was Asmara that was going to be the new African capital, La Piccola Roma – Little Rome.

Standing at 2,000m above sea level, the capital’s location was chosen in part because it was cooler than the brutally hot coastal regions. As was commonplace across European colonies, the colonisers wanted to avoid the extremes of the lands they conquered and find places more comparable to the climates they had left behind.

Where the colonial money arrived, the locals followed and Asmara became a city of contrasts. Intermingled with the Tukul’s, round huts of stone or mud topped with conical roofs that are indigenous to East Africa, are hundreds of buildings in the modernist style that were erected by the Italian colonisers from 1935. Many such buildings, including the Fiat Tagliero petrol station, the Town Hall and the Cinema Roma, came to represent East African Modernism. But why was there this push towards the style?


Peter Volgger, an academic who studied the impact of the modernist architecture in post-colonial Eritrea, has a theory. “Colonial cities were often projection screens for modernist fantasies and were built as futuristic visions for European cities.” So what couldn’t be done back home could be done in the colonial setting. Fantasies could be fulfilled.

The fall of fascism in Europe after WWII didn’t mark the end of colonialism in Africa, as the losers’ colonies were transferred over to the winners. Britain governed the colony for a while before power at a federal level was handed over Ethiopia. It was only in 1993 that Eritrea finally gained independence from its larger neighbour; a hundred years after the Italians first conquered the region.

Yet the Modernist buildings continued to be built long after the Italians had left. The IRGA garage, for instance, which is often held up as a key example of Eritrean modernism was built in 1961.

It’s in part due to such constructions that in 2017, Asmara was recognised as by Unesco as a site of particular cultural importance and included in their world heritage list. This not only brings in money from Unesco directly, but also induces international interest and tourism. The inclusion of Asmara in the organisation’s heritage list marked a shift towards inclusivity, having often been criticised for its lack of sites in Africa. Of the 845 cultural sites worldwide, Asmara is one of only 52 that are from Sub-Saharan Africa. In Germany alone there are 41 sites and Italy 49.

Long overdue, the significance of Asmara and its modernist buildings has been recognised. Despite their architectural interest they cannot and should not be divorced from the grim historical reality of their existence. For the millions who call the city home they stand monument to the arrogant dreams of empire that consumed the country for over a hundred years.