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Monday28 July 2014

Heatherwick glass bridge shattered by recession

Heatherwick’s design was made of hundreds of glass sheets held together by compression alone.
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£7.5 million price tag scuppers ‘jewel in the crown’ of King’s Cross Central

Designs by Thomas Heatherwick for the world’s first all-glass bridge at the entrance to London’s £2 billion King’s Cross Central have been scrapped on cost grounds, developer Argent revealed this week.

Speaking to BD, Argent chief executive Roger Madelin said the “gem-like” structure — a 16m-long pedestrian bridge made up of hundreds of glass sheets held together by compression alone — would cost £7.5 million to deliver, which he said looked unachievable in the face of the recession.

Although Madelin said he still hoped that commercial sponsors would come forward with additional funding to make the bridge a reality, the news is a fresh blow for Heatherwick, who only last month learnt that his B of the Bang sculpture in Manchester was to be dismantled and put into storage.

“What Thomas and his team came up with was brilliant,” Madelin said. “But we got the cost through and thought, ‘Wow — that’s a lot of money’.

“Even in better times, we’d have been looking for private sector support. It wasn’t just a bridge, it was an icon, a symbol with a purity of design. I wouldn’t want to do a glass bridge held together with steel rods.

Roger Madelin

“Someone might see the original design and say: I want to do that and name it after my daughter”

Roger Madelin

“But someone might see [the original design] and say: I want to do that and name it after my daughter.”

Madelin insisted that the wider King’s Cross Central scheme — whose architects include Stanton Williams, David Chipperfield, DRMM and Wilkinson Eyre — is on track, although he admitted financial headaches with a Sainsbury’s office building designed by Allies & Morrison.

“We’ve got a few months’ delay while we get things in order,” he said. “But we’ll get our ducks in line.”

Heatherwick was unavailable for comment, but Alan Jones of SKM Anthony Hunt, the bridge’s structural engineer on , described it as the “jewel in the crown” of King’s Cross Central. “I’m sure it would have really put the whole development on the map,” he said.

“Thomas likened it to picking up a stack of books. If you push them together hard enough, you can keep them together. We could make the panels behave like a single piece of glass.

“We believe we do have a solution to deliver a wholly glass bridge but perhaps it wouldn’t give Thomas the imagery he wanted.”

Legendary designer Ron Arad expressed sadness at the news of the bridge’s demise, and said the recession should not be used as an excuse to ditch creativity.

“Thomas has had this [design] on his desk for years and years,” he said. “It’s an amazing thing and if it doesn’t happen, that’s our loss.

“What is exciting about the bridge is that it’s counter-intuitive. The layman would look at it and would think that it wouldn’t work.”

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