University of Birmingham Steam Bridge
by MJP Architects

| 6 comments

University of Birmingham Steam Bridge by MJP Architects

This 60 metre-long metal bridge is a route for heating and power pipes, rather than people.

University of Birmingham Steam Bridge by MJP Architects

Designed by London architects MJP, the stainless steel tunnel connects the combined heat and power plant (CHP) at the University of Birmingham’s main site with a campus across the railway tracks and canal.

University of Birmingham Steam Bridge by MJP Architects

Small perforations create a pattern of wavy lines on the bridge’s exterior, while the steel surface has a brushed finish that reduces glare for train drivers below.

University of Birmingham Steam Bridge by MJP Architects

The new CHP supply will decrease the University’s carbon footprint by approximately 1500 tonnes per year.

University of Birmingham Steam Bridge by MJP Architects

We've also featured another interesting University energy facility - click to read about an energy centre with diamond-shaped aluminium scales.

University of Birmingham Steam Bridge by MJP Architects

Photography is by Simon Kennedy.

Here's a description from MJP:


Steam on at the University of Birmingham

The newly completed Steambridge is a key component of a forward-looking major programme to refurbish and extend the University of Birmingham’s combined heat and power (CHP) network. The site of the new bridge is at the West Gate of the University and marks the entrance to the Edgbaston Campus. MJP Architects have designed the curved 2k finished, laser cut, Grade 316 stainless cladding for a very long service life with zero cleaning and maintenance.

Liz Pride, MJP’s Director of Education and the University’s Development Plan Architect says,

“It’s in a very prominent location at the main West Gate entrance to the University’s campus and right opposite the entrance to University Station. It’s also quite a feature seen from the canal below. The elegant design of the cladding makes an inherently utilitarian feature interesting and attractive: it highlights the University’s real commitment to CHP and carbon reduction.”

University of Birmingham Steam Bridge by MJP Architects

Steam is Green

The University has an in-house combined heat and power (CHP) station, and a remote site at the Medical School on the opposite side of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and the busy railway lines. The Steambridge links these two parts of the campus.

David Drew M&E Manager at the University of Birmingham says:

“The success of the bridge is that it reduces our carbon footprint by in excess of 1,500 tonnes of carbon per year and gives us a vastly improved security of supply”.

Kevin George CPW Building Services says:

It’s an impressive structure and the reaction that people have had has been amazing. People arriving at the University get off the train and they stop, look over and say ‘wow what’s that?’ – To get people to go ‘wow’ for a services project is a really great thing”.

The campus wide CHP network is a very sustainable method of providing for the future power needs of the University as local power generation, is significantly more efficient than the national grid and therefore reduces the University’s carbon dioxide outputs campus wide.

University of Birmingham Steam Bridge by MJP Architects

Glamour Brought to Infrastructure

The Steam Pipe Bridge is designed as an elegant, sinuous sculptural form, ‘flowing’ across the canal and railway lines. The curved silver cladding reflects the colours of the trees and water, whilst the rippling slots enliven its surface.

Birmingham and the West Midlands are UK centres of industry and the bridge uses aeronautical, transport and engineering imagery in its design, to reflect its location at the University of Birmingham and to illustrate its purpose. Reza Schuster Director MJP Architects says:

“It’s not just a pipe, it has the flattened ends and curved profile of the trains that run underneath it and the front of the bridge has the shape of an intake of an airliner turbofan nacelle. I like to think that the sinuous curves in the metallic surface describe the flow of steam from one side of the bridge to the other”.

Off-Site Construction

The 60 metre long superstructure was pre-clad off-site, transported by road in two spans, and installed with military precision during a five hour overnight line closure. The cladding panels were fabricated in Holland by Sorba Projects and their detail design was the result of a close and creative collaboration between MJP Architects, the University and the specialist subcontractor.

University of Birmingham Steam Bridge by MJP Architects

Client: University of Birmingham Estates Department

Project Team
Architect: MJP Architects
Project Manager: Couch Perry Wilkes
Contract Administrator: Robinson Low Francis
Structural Engineer: Couch Consulting Engineers
Services Engineer: Couch Perry Wilkes
Quantity Surveyor: Robinson Low Francis
CDM Coordinator: Robinson Low Francis

Contractor Team
Main Contractor: Volker FitzPatrick
Cladding Subcontractor: Sorba Projects
M&E Subcontractor: D&I Building Services

  • http://www.unlike.in horrible haridas

    for the architect: i couldn't stop noticing a little spacing issue in the way the curves intersect in the second picture from the top. why doesn't the curve coming from beneath meet the horizontal one at the correct spacing angle?

    • Anh Pham

      "why doesn't the curve coming from beneath meet the horizontal one at the correct spacing angle?"

      Good observation but I think it does. You couldn't see it maybe because a piece of the machine inside was put right at that position. Look at the fifth image from the top!

    • felix

      Oh yeah. That's really weird. They seem to have done it correctly in other places. Maybe there's a fixing inside that had to be at that point.

  • http://www.mjparchitects.co.uk Reza Schuster MJP

    Thanks Horrible Haridas, you've got sharp eyes! Trust me, it isn't a spacing issue: The stainless cladding was precision laser cut in the Netherlands (before being shipped over and pre-assembled on the carbon steel superstructure off-site in the UK). What you've spotted is the sky showing through one of the curved slots on the other side of the cladding.

    • http://www.unlike.in horrible haridas

      thanks for explaining, reza. i think i see what you mean. looking at the rest of it, i do believe it couldn't be an error.

  • felix

    Don't like. The form is boring, doesn't give any hint of the purpose. This could have drawn on the industrial tradition of Birmingham and the railway, but instead it's just a boring extrusion. Architects like Rogers have shown how pipes can be beautiful and communicate their function. This design is divorced from its function, whatever the architect says about the wave pattern.