London's proposed Garden Bridge has a very bad week

One would think that London's proposed Garden Bridge would be popular among the TreeHugger types; it is, after all, pedestrian infrastructure and covered with, you know, trees. And, it was promoted as a private investment by the Absolutely Fabulous actor and green activist Joanna Lumley teamed up with the Pretty Terrific designer Thomas Heatherwick.

Alas, it all went downriver from there, needing public money, being put in the wrong place, and raising questions about whether it was going to be public space or a police state.

deck of bridge© Heatherwick Studios

This week there has been a complete pile-on, with more people complaining about the bridge than it can probably hold at one time. First the head of the Royal Institute of British Architects, (RIBA) said it should be put on hold because of the way Heatherwick got hired; It was supposed to be a fair and open public process, but evidently the game was rigged. Duncan tells the Architects' Journal:

The allegations relating to the procurement of the Garden Bridge are extremely concerning. All those who bid for work have a right to expect that their submissions will be judged fairly, transparently and in accordance with the law. Given the high-profile nature of this project, the amount of public money at stake and the seriousness of the allegations, we would urge that the project is put on hold and the whole procurement process is then opened up to detailed scrutiny. This is by no means a comment on the work of the immensely talented Heatherwick Studio and Arup teams. Our concerns are about the fairness and transparency of the procurement process.

garden bridge model detailLloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

In the Financial Times, a very conservative business paper, Architecture columnist Edwin Heathcote has no such scruples about Heatherwick. In a clever twist of the Garfunkel and Simon title, Troubled bridge over water he writes:

There are bridges. And there are gardens. You might find bridges in gardens. But you do not find gardens on bridges. There is a reason. They are two entirely different things. Which is why the London “Garden Bridge” proposed by actress Joanna Lumley and designer Thomas Heatherwick is wrong in virtually every way. From its pseudo-organic design (it has the striated coarseness of something fabricated on a 3D-printer) to the bum-fluff foliage poking out from it in optimistic renderings, everything about this scheme suggests a sweatily nervous attempt to brand itself a “visionary” project.

He goes on to note that "The Garden Bridge represents a fundamental misconception about what public space is." That it is not public at all, that it is not really a bridge (which is a thoroughfare) He also notes the comparisons people are making of the Garden Bridge to New York's High Line Park, that you should be careful what you wish for:

The High Line has become a victim of its own popularity. It was a wonderful idea — affording a new perspective on the city — but now a weekend walk along its elevated platform is a purgatory, a crush of rush-hour proportions. What was conceived as a pleasant place for a stroll or an urban jog is now a human traffic jam, strictly for out-of-towners and tourists. It is about an idea of a city — not about the city itself.

view from garden bridge© Heatherwick Studios

Yikes. Meanwhile, in the left-of-center Guardian, critic Rowan Moore delivers a valentine, answering the questions "Why should so much anger be stirred by a project that started with Joanna Lumley’s innocent and benign dream of commemorating Princess Diana by projecting greenery across the Thames? Why should so many want to trample on Joanna’s flowers?" He continues in one long paragraph to list everyone who is against it and why:

Well, I can’t speak for the Ramblers’ Association, the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the guerrilla gardeners and structural engineers who have seen it as a travesty of their crafts, the residents of the areas near its landings, the lawyers of the Middle Temple, the president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Taxpayers’ Alliance, the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association, the Green party, the Liberal Democrats, and the various others who have raised doubts about the project. Nor will I dwell here on the well-aired reasons to be doubtful: the blocking of well-loved views, the spurious claims for usefulness and sustainability, the clumsiness of the design, the cost to the public, the potential impacts of crowds, the likely effects of private sponsorship on allegedly public space, the many ways of both crossing the Thames and greening London that would cost less.

He then goes on to complain about the process and the way it feels like a done deal. "it is no way to make major decisions in a democracy."

garden bridge© Heatherwick Studios via Designboom

Finally, in the same paper, Ian Jack asks Why is London’s Garden Bridge worth as much as five Lancashire museums? In the subhead he says: " I know why some people hate London". That's because while London is getting fancy bridges with public money, on other parts of the country libraries are closing, museums are shutting.

Other parts of England, particularly in the north, are of course familiar with similar closures and cutbacks, but in Lancashire they amount to a cultural disembowelment. First they came for the mills, you might say, and then for the libraries, and then for the museums that the mills had become.

He also goes through the gamut about process, about Lumley hanging out with Boris and Heatherwick and how it is again, all a done deal:

So there we are. A sum of £60m, adjusted for inflation, would keep Lancashire’s museums open for nearly the next half century. Instead, thanks to the power of the chums, it will help finance an unwanted, unnecessary new ornament in London. I like London, but it isn’t hard to understand why so many other people hate the place.

These are trouble times in the newspaper business, but wow, those British journalists know how to write. Both Moore and Jack think this bridge is a done deal, but I wonder how it can stand up to assaults like this.

Tags: Design Competitions | Designers | London

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