Garden Bridge moves towards construction despite ongoing controversy


Thomas Heatherwick's Garden Bridge has moved one step closer to reality with the appointment of a building contractor, despite calls for the project to be halted from a number of key figures.

Construction firms Bouygues Travaux Publics and Cimolai has been jointly selected to build the plant-covered London bridge across the River Thames – designed by Heatherwick after being conceived by British actress Joanna Lumley.

The appointment is in line with a strict timescale, which requires the structure to complete in late 2018 to avoid clashing with the construction of a major new sewer. Building work is now scheduled to start this summer.

This is in spite of the project being called into question by several important individuals in recent months over concerns around funding sources and claims the procurement process was unfairly biased towards Heatherwick.

Garden Bridge update

Billed as a "beautiful new garden floating above the River Thames", the 367-metre-long Garden Bridge is proposed across the Thames between the South Bank and Temple.

It is expected to cost £175 million, with £115 million from private donations and £60 million of public money already committed. Critics have suggested that taxpayers will end up paying for the remaining £30 million.

An investigation by UK magazine The Architect's Journal found that Heatherwick was present for at least five meetings with London's mayor Boris Johnson or deputy mayors prior to the contest. The AJ also claimed that a manager for government body Transport for London (TfL) had reported irregularities in the design competition.

"It's now abundantly clear that the design competition that Transport for London held in early 2013 was nothing of the sort," AJ deputy editor Will Hurst told Dezeen.

"Every scrap of evidence that has emerged suggests that mayor Boris Johnson – who is also the chair of TfL – had already decided on designer Thomas Heatherwick because of prior lobbying by Garden Bridge champion Joanna Lumley," he added. "It is an alarming thought that a major design contest, especially one funded by the public purse, could be so manipulated and distorted by political pressure."

Garden Bridge update

Jane Duncan, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, is among those who have voiced concerns over the project.

She said she was "extremely concerned" about the fairness of the original design competition, which resulted in Heatherwick being chosen ahead of established bridge designers Wilkinson Eyre and Marks Barfield.

"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," she said.

Boris Johnson has continued to publicly back the project, and has accused critics from the architecture world of being jealous of Heatherwick.

The London-based designer is not a qualified architect but his studio has a large portfolio of building projects like Britain's 2010 Shanghai Expo pavilion and Google's new HQ, as well as designs including the 2012 Olympic Cauldron.

Garden Bridge update

A number of local politicians have attempted to block the Garden Bridge, including Vauxhall MP Kate Hoey and three councillors from the London Borough of Lambeth, even though planning permission was granted by both local authorities in late 2014.

Along with two Greater London Authority members, they have reportedly appealed to Coin Street Community Builders – the leaseholders of the land where the bridge will meet the South Bank – to resist the project.

Lambeth granted permission for the bridge on the grounds that 46 criteria would be met, covering everything from the construction timetable to how the structure will be managed.

One of these conditions stipulated that large groups will need to apply in advance for permission to cross – a move that has provoked criticism from the public.

The Garden Bridge Trust remains positive, claiming that 80 per cent of Lambeth's conditions have already been met and approved.

"The Garden Bridge is a reality," said Mervyn Davies, the chairman of the non-profit organisation. "We are on course with our fundraising targets, we are meeting the requirements of our planning conditions."

"We have huge public support for the project and we look forward to working with Bouygues TP and Cimolai and all our partners to make this a special place to be enjoyed by Londoners and visitors in the heart of the city for years to come," he added.

Garden Bridge update

Heatherwick first unveiled his design for the bridge in 2013. He claimed the project would allow Londoners to rediscover the "amazing piece of nature" that is the River Thames.

"There is now an opportunity to connect London together better, to give Londoners a huge improvement in the quality of pedestrian river crossing in this area, to allow us all to get closer to the river and at the same time to stimulate new regeneration possibilities at both ends where it lands," he said.

Lumley said the bridge would be "sensational in every way: a place with no noise or traffic where the only sounds will be birdsong and bees buzzing and the wind in the trees, and below the steady rush of water".

Renderings are courtesy of Arup.

  • spadestick

    Is Heatherwick the Trump of architecture?

    • Guest

      Oh you’ve managed to mention Trump. Shame no one can understand the question.

    • max

      No that’s Bjarke ;)

      • Hej!

        What about Zaha Hadid?

        • Kay

          It’s none of them, it’s Adrian Smith who literately designed Trump Towers in Chicago. Gehry close second.

  • Davide

    This is easily the most expensive public park in recent history… Ah wait, it’s not entirely public.

    But then I’m glad that finally I will be able to experience the natural beauty of the Thames, except it’s not natural and elevated some 10 meters above it.

    I can hardly imagine people sat in a meeting and agreed this was a clever proposal.

    • Will Jennings

      They didn’t. That’s a huge problem. There were meetings between Johnson and Lumleywick then a whole fake competition to push it through.

      No meetings. No democracy. No transparency.

    • Kay

      Would you back the project if there was no public money being put into it?

  • Catherine77

    Why is there so much controversy? Naysayers be damned, I want to see this built. Every major proposal comes with a chorus of criticism but this will be a landmark for London. And yes, I don’t mind public money being pumped into the project.

    • rohtmuz

      Perhaps because this isn’t an entirely public bridge? And because the procurement process has been corrupt?

    • Glad you’ve got the cash to spare! Most people work hard and would prefer to see something that already exists improved.

      But in the meantime constructive criticism is fine as the Garden Bridge is pure greenwash as you asked what all the fuss is about. Please read:

      And since you ask why the controversy here’s some background:

      The Walkie Talkie is a ‘landmark’ for London too in its own way – and the Orbit. They mar views of London; and are not well-loved. Let’s prevent vainglorious celebrities from paving over our river with a private concrete party platform.

    • Sim

      First of all, the designer has a limited experience with making bridges. The technical aspect to a bridge is much bigger than the design aspect. Second of all things like this should belong to the public sphere not the private sphere.

      Now, if it is built, it will be possible that it is closed off because some “donor” wants to hold a party there, just when you needed to cross the bridge because you have a very important meeting at work. Thirdly this: “a place with no noise or traffic where the only sounds will be birdsong and bees buzzing and the wind in the trees, and below the steady rush of water” is a romantic delusion that will bring forth a very expensive error.

      No bridge in a major busy and noisy city will ever provide that experience. I could go on if you like but let’s start with this.

    • James Calbraith

      The controversy comes from the way this is being handled. What started out as a new public space, sponsored by private money, became a corporate venue, paid for by taxpayers at a time of austerity – so a complete reversal of the original.

      All this on the background of private capital increasingly encroaching on what’s left of London’s public spaces. And London doesn’t really need yet another tourist attraction, especially in the centre. It’s already the most visited city on the planet.

    • AmmaarahF

      Also, the choice of advisers and contractors is questionable. There was a huge thing on the BBC about Arup being commissioned to engineer it because the panel who decided it had a clear bias towards them.

      • Sim

        Arup is the best engineering company in the world. That’s not bias, that is a sensible decision.

        • AmmaarahF

          That wasn’t the issue though. The controversy was surrounding the fact that the panel who selected them was meant to be unbiased, but it was later found out that quite a few of them were ex Arup employees, or involved with the company in some way.

          I personally don’t doubt that Arup would’ve been chosen regardless, but the lack of impartiality angered quite a few people.

      • Kay

        Why is it questionable!? It seems as though people are determined to find conspiracy.

        • AmmaarahF

          You do have a point. I honestly think Arup would’ve been picked regardless, but I guess the way it was done made it look like other firms weren’t given a fair chance. I mean it’s Arup, so there was never going to be any competition really, but Londoners and the BBC in particular did make quite a big thing about it.

  • Archi-Nerd


  • Archi-Nerd

    Scandal on the Thames y’all!

  • I say forget the controversy and build it. London could always use more green.

    • dribble

      This isn’t ‘green’ though, it’s a window box.

    • It’s taking away the same amount of PUBLIC green open space on the South Bank (2400m2). If it is built only the new space would be converted to totally PRIVATE land. And what about the public open blue space that they’d be covering over i.e. the river, with thousands of tons of concrete? Please do some research before making sweeping statements:

  • Karl Diskin

    And they can’t afford £30/week for disabled people to be able to wash and dress themselves with dignity.

  • Sim

    The problem with this is that the brief was made to “fit” the design rather than that the design is the solution to a need that is expressed. Because the design is illogical, hence expensive, draconian amounts of money, and bending of rules have to be put in place in order to get the thing built. That’s how they do things in other (corrupt) places but not in democracies I would like to believe where all people are equal.

    • Phil

      Heatherwick, who has profited greatly from other taxpayer projects, is at it again. So many indicators that this is just another project to bleed tax-payers money into one designer’s pocket. We all have a responsibility to make sure this project does not go ahead. That is the legacy we should be leaving.

  • Manky

    I love it and it will be a lovely thing. The end.

  • It doesn’t have cycling provision, doesn’t provide a crossing anywhere useful, the procurement process is dodgy and it will spoil some iconic views. So I think it’s a money-making scheme subsidised with money that is desperately needed to provide real facilities for Londoners. Sorry but I really hope it doesn’t get built.

  • Michael

    What a load of kitsch. It’s like a stoner’s shower thought come to life.

  • James

    Conceived by Joanna Lumley and countless architectural students over the years. This bridge is a symbol of the sad state of architectural procurement. If you’re in favour you get everything and the rest of us get scraps.

  • christoph

    When would there be a referendum to vote this excessive piece of infrastructure out? There are plenty of gardens in London.

  • Nick

    Can we put the politics aside and just agree that it doesn’t look good?

  • N

    Public funded? They can’t even fork over half the cost of the bridge.

  • Gary Grant

    Unsuitable location, far too expensive, damaging.

  • Oliver

    I think that quite apart from all the procurement stuff, the cronyism, the greenwashing – bad as all that stuff is – the bottom line is that the Garden Bridge is poor design. It is meaningless. It is kitsch, rooted in the sentimentalism of Lumley’s vainglorious hope for a Diana memorial. It will haunt Heatherwick, and rightly so – just as the Walkie Talkie has compromised Vinoly (who is, at least, an actual architect).

  • Voiceless

    London gets a bridge they don’t need for £175 million, and Liverpool gets a road they don’t want put through a community and natural park for £200 million when the rail option has been dismissed. .

    It’s good to have friends in high places (said ironically).