Bridges are undoubtedly some of the most interesting and iconic urban structures. The new bridge over the Svitava River, designed on the basis of an architecture competition, will not only become a new landmark in the city, but also an important driver of initiatives to develop an essential Brno brownfield – the Zbrojovka complex.
Participants in the competition were asked to design a bridge over the Svitava river, covering also a part of the adjacent intersection, leading west towards Svitavské nábřeží Street, and approach ramps from Nová Šámalova and Nová Dukelská Streets. An expert jury evaluated seven designs proposed by both Czech and foreign architectural teams, and selected the design of the British studio William Matthews Associates, who worked in consortium with Buro Hapold and the Czech landscapers Šmídová Landscape Architects.
The winning studio, William Matthews Associates, is behind award-winning projects such as the Tintagel Castle footbridge in North Cornwall or the Canada Square Pavilion in London’s Canary Wharf district. One of their most recent projects is a building at Euston station within a UK high speed rail project. Štěpánka Šmídová’s studio counts among the most distinctive Czech landscapers. Among other projects, they have authored the landscape design for OAKS, an exclusive residential area, and Prague’s Letná Park.
The design brief asked for a comprehensive solution for adjacent public spaces on the banks of the Svitava, including flood prevention measures. The proposed flood prevention measures were to be reflected in the design of the bridge itself. The project area also included the public spaces in the immediate surroundings, including the connection between the extended Dačického Street and the Svitavské nábřeží Street, and the proposed solution was to take into account the design of the bridge and the adjacent areas.
“The landscape design takes an organic approach to the shape of the banks, bringing back their biological value and allowing the river to overflow naturally. The wild and natural character of the place will become a counterpoint to the otherwise very urbanised and altered cityscape,” says Štěpánka Šmídová, the leader of the landscaping team. “In terms of vegetation, the design divides the project area into geographical zones, ranging from softwood riparian woodland, through hardwood riparian woodland to urban-type woodland dominated by oak and hornbeam, with the purposeful addition of non-native tree species.“
The park will be a place where the urban fabric blends with the water element, becoming a sort of intermediate stage between the environment altered – often radically – by humans, and the unrestrained river the Svitava once was. A little bit of nature in the city: “The area of the park will be left to controlled succession (where spontaneously emerging vegetation will be supported); only selected, highly exposed areas will be sown purposefully with grass and herbaceous plant species. In this wild environment, the planted trees will form a distinct linear structure; in addition to these, we expect more woody plant species to emerge, such as goat willow,” adds Štěpánka Šmídová, explaining how the nature park will develop. “This urban wilderness will bring value not only to humans, but also to other organisms.“ The design respects the cultural and natural priorities of the place to the maximum extent possible, while placing an emphasis on responsibility, economy and sustainability.
Historically, industry was dominant in the area: Zbrojovka, an arms manufacturer, built its production plant on one bank, and engines for Zetor tractors were manufactured on the other. Over time, these industrial complexes turned into neglected brownfields, which will be now replaced by new residential buildings, offices, services and green spaces.
The city’s administration promises that, thanks to long-term cooperation between the private and public sectors, investors will cover part of the public infrastructure costs.
This is why Brno sees the new bridge not only as a solution to the traffic situation – the bridge will connect the newly built Nová Dukelská Street from the direction of Tomkovo náměstí and Nová Šámalova in the direction from from Zábrdovická Street – but also as a driver of further development in the area and, more specifically, the transformation of the river embankment with the planned river park.
The bridge will be approximately 30 meters wide and 85 meters long, and will have two lanes for public transport and two for cars. There will also be separate cycle paths and pavements for pedestrians. The structure will be able to withstand a hundred-year flood. The costs of the project have been estimated at over 220 million Czech crowns.
The expert jury has agreed that the design appropriately integrates the key historic values and the requirement to develop a new network of public spaces and infrastructure, while also allowing the river, otherwise bound within the city, to “take a breath”. “The proposed public infrastructure consists of an elegant bridge which spans a park characterised by its wilderness and naturalness, thus becoming an alternative to the highly urbanised landscape of the city and the river. A functional system that respects cultural and natural priorities has been designed, with an emphasis on responsibility, economy and sustainability,” the evaluation reads. “When we evaluated the design, we particularly appreciated the slender steel structure of the bridge and the generous flood park extending the river embankment on both sides. The solution is simple, generous in terms of space, flexible, sufficiently permeable for various types of visitor activities, and has great potential to fulfil the function of a wildlife corridor,” adds chief city architect Michal Sedláček.
Visualisation: 2DR, monolot