The problem with modern bridges, as we see it, is that they are often designed to be more like sculptures than public spaces.
So for a competition for a bridge in Turku, Finland, we aimed to create a social space that would transcend its function of linking one side of the river to the other, while avoiding the temptation of making a merely visual statement.
Our bridge is punctuated with places where people can stop and enjoy the view, or soak up the scarce northern sun. We also created a seamless connection with the existing riverside promenade, making the Fan Bridge more of a piazza than a pure infrastructural link.
The site is located in the heart of Turku, the old Finnish cultural capital. The spot is depicted on the most popular postcard views of Finland, so the building of a new bridge over the River Aura triggered a lengthy public debate. It was decided, finally, to make the intervention the subject of a design competition.
Instead of approaching the bridge as a visual landmark, our entry conceived it as a new public space for the city. It is designed to be used and occupied more than to be looked at. Our strategy was to exploit the qualities of the unique site to make a lively, high-quality public place in the tradition of the Pont des Arts in Paris.
The Fan Bridge crosses the river in a diagonal direction. This reduces the distance between the two key public spaces of the site, as well as reducing the speed of cyclists coming downhill from the eastern side with a soft yet efficient chicane.
At both ends, the shape of the bridge fans out, creating two large sets of stairs that connect the bridge to the lower and upper sections of the riverside embankments. Our stairs form a series of platforms, designed to support the public life of the riverbanks.
They provide the city with a new experience of the river, combining the best views and the best sun exposure with a new public space to stage a wide variety of events ranging from live music to street markets and festivals.
While steel for the main structure was welded in the famous shipyard of Turku, we choose wood for the stairs to make them comfortable to sit on. Wood heats up faster in the sun, and so feels warm to the touch even on a sunny winter day.
The design explores sculptural qualities other than the traditional structural expressivity that characterizes most contemporary bridges: materiality and volume.
Our bridge structure is designed to be as elusive as possible. It is made from thin Corten steel plates, welded together to create a large steel tray functioning like the structural tip of a modern ski. Its edges are no thicker than 20mm. From a distance, the bridge has virtually no structure. The depths of the structure are set back, to remain in the background as a shadow of the bridge. Close up, the thickness of the steel plates becomes tangible and sensuous.
It was always going to be a challenge to insert a new structure in the most famous view of Turku, but our intervention has two advantages. It provides a new public space for the old town, while its super-flat structure makes the bridge as discrete as possible, fitting its context beautifully.