While the design of bridges usually lies within the realm of civil engineers, many architects can’t resist getting involved with this specialist branch of infrastructure. The linking of two landmasses inspires visions of instant urban renewal, forming a literal and symbolic connection between communities and providing all kinds of socioeconomic benefits along the way. Bridges also offer a tantalizing opportunity for iconic gestures that are both sculptural and functional, and it is perhaps this fact that lures big-name architects most of all. Enter Zaha Hadid Architects, winners of an international competition for a major new road and rail bridge in Taiwan.
The Danjiang Bridge over the Tamsui River will form a multilane, multi-transport link connecting four highways and improving accessibility to Taipei Airport and the region’s network of coastal roads. Designed in collaboration with German firm Leonhardt, Andrä und Partner, ZHA’s design incorporates tracks for the district’s planned light rail system. According to the competition organizers, this will help “create synergy between recreational activities along the shores of Tamsui River and foster growth of the Taipei Port District.”
Although specific details pertaining to the structure are still to come, the winning proposal appears to take the form of a conventional cable-stayed bridge — albeit on a huge scale. Its most prominent feature is a single, soaring tower that supports the many cables, comprising two gleaming white elements in a V shape that meet above the roadway and extend toward the sky.
While ZHA has already realized a bridge of its own — Abu Dhabi’s serpentine Sheikh Zayed Bridge was completed in 2010 — inevitable comparisons will be drawn between this proposal and those of the British-Iraqi architect’s illustrious peers. The silhouette of the Hadid’s central tower bears a strong resemblance to those supporting Foster + Partners’ sky-high Millau Viaduct, while its snow-white finish evokes numerous sculptural set pieces by a certain Santiago Calatrava.
Indeed, some may argue that the intrinsically iconic style of both Calatrava and Hadid is even more suited to bridges than to buildings, and the city authorities of Taipei clearly desire the input of a studio with a sterling record in the creation of urban landmarks. With their unparalleled reputation for delivering major projects in the public realm, ZHA was able to respond to the brief with a great deal of self-assurance: director Patrik Schumacher spoke of the firm’s aim to “make a conspicuous landmark against the backdrop of Tamsui's famous sunset.”
If you are a staunch believer in the value of functionality over the more emotive aspects of urban planning, fear not: the bridge will shorten a busy route in northern Taiwan by nine miles (15 kilometers), saving people around 25 minutes between the Tamsui and Bali districts. Upon its completion, it seems the population will be enjoying dual benefits as a result of Zaha’s efforts: a convenient commute across a beautiful stretch of the Tamsui River and an instantly recognizable icon for the city of Taipei.