Best Bridges of the New Millennium
Flashy buildings get all the press, but bridges are making an even more dramatic leap forward. Here are the 12 most worth a detour.
Completed in 2004, the Millau Viaduct is the tallest bridge in the world. It reaches a height of 1,125 feet, making it 141 feet taller than the Eiffel Tower (without the antenna). Back Story: Spanning a mile and a half between two plateaus in the Tarn Valley of southern France, the bridge is part of a network of highways that link Paris and Barcelona. Designed by British architect Norman Foster, the cable-stayed, masted structure is supported by seven concrete piers. The appearance is of a narrow ribbon stretching across the gorge. See for Yourself: The Millau Viaduct is about 400 miles south of Paris, a six-hour trip by car via the A10, A71, and A75 motorways (leviaducdemillau.com). The toll to cross is $7 per passenger car ($9 in the months of July and August). The Cazalous welcome area has a film about the construction and a viewing platform (011-33/5-65-59-42-86; from Millau, follow signs on the D992 roadway toward Albi/Toulouse). And the Millau tourism office sells guided bus tours of the bridge daily (ot-millau.fr, $13 per person, reservations are required).
Gateshead Millennium Bridge
Since opening in 2001, the 413-foot-long Gateshead Millennium Bridge has linked the cities of Gateshead and Newcastle in northern England. Nicknamed the Blinking Eye, it's the world's only tilting bridge--opening and closing as an eyelid does in order to allow ships on the River Tyne to pass underneath. Back Story: The design is by London-based Wilkinson Eyre Architects. The deck, open only to pedestrians and cyclists, curves horizontally and, when not in use, hangs above the river from suspension cables fixed to a steel arch. The bridge uses hydraulics to tilt as a single, rigid structure: As the arch lowers, the deck rises, each counterbalancing the other. See for Yourself: For tilt times, do a search for "Gateshead Millennium Bridge" at gateshead.gov.uk. There's a free viewing platform attached to the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art on the Gateshead side (011-44/191-478-1810, balticmill.com). The bridge is worth seeing during the day, when lighting on the underside of the deck creates a reflection on the river, and again at night, when the arch is lit up. During the week, the light is white; on weekends, it's a spectrum of colors.
Designed by London's Heatherwick Studio and completed in 2004, the Rolling Bridge is just one of three innovative footbridges (see Helix Bridge and Station Bridge, below) that are drawing visitors to one of the largest mixed-use regeneration projects in Europe, Paddington Basin on the Grand Union Canal in West London. Back Story: Thomas Heatherwick's 39-foot-long kinetic sculpture is technically a drawbridge, but instead of splitting in two, it retracts by curling up into a tight ring so that boats can pass by. The eight steel-and-wood sections are hinged together; the hydraulics are cleverly concealed in the handrails so that nothing detracts from the clean lines. In its closed position, the Rolling Bridge doesn't resemble a bridge at all--it looks like a steel-and-wood octagon at the water's edge. See for Yourself: The Paddington and Edgware Road Tube stations are at opposite ends of the Basin (tfl.gov.uk/tube). To watch the bridge in action, go Friday at noon. Don't be late: It takes just three minutes to curl up into a ball. During warmer months, the Paddington Waterside Partnership leads a series of free tours of the area (paddingtonwaterside.co.uk).
The 24-foot-long Helix Bridge at Paddington Basin, designed by Marcus Taylor, is nearly 12 feet in diameter and appears to retract like a corkscrew to allow boats to pass by. (As it rotates, the cylinder moves back and forth on a track.) The bridge is open to foot traffic, but cracked panels need to be repaired before it can rotate.
London artists Ben Langlands and Nikki Bell designed the 240-foot-long Paddington Basin Station Bridge (2004), which connects Paddington train station to the main basin development. The Station Bridge's aluminum deck is cantilevered off a shimmering glass wall that was clearly inspired by Japanese shoji screens.