Workshop four - engineering & bridges

This month’s Shape My City blog post is written by project participant Cai Burton.

This blog post is brought to you amidst stacks of past papers and revision notes, as all of the Shape My City members are well into exam season. However, with two hours free on a sunny Thursday evening, we were able to relax a little and immerse ourselves in session four of the project. This week, we were lucky enough to be joined by Fiona Gleed who is a lecturer at UWE in civil engineering.

Next, Fiona gave a short presentation about her experiences as a Structural engineer. It was really interesting, and it gave me a great insight into what engineers actually do. Engineering is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but she really made clear what it means to be a structural engineer. She shared her story and all her different experiences of structural and civil engineering that helped lead her to where she is now. She shared that she was a part of the construction of The Mall in Cribb’s Causeway, and how she worked on the fountains at the centre. It was really interesting to hear this as years later, you can still physically see the impact she has made!

Finally, we were given our design activity! This session, we needed to design a striking new bridge over the River Avon to link to the new Bristol Arena site. With this brief, we needed to think about how we could allow pedestrians, cyclists and car drivers to all use the bridge safely. We also needed to ensure that the bridge has a striking design which contributed to the regeneration of the wider area, helping to make it a ‘destination’. The design brief also encouraged us to consider:

  • the type of bridge structure (beam, arch, truss, etc.
  • the distance that needs to be spanned (max 40 meters
  • the materials – what will the bridge look and feel like?
  • how the bridge will form a connection between the city centre/railway station and the new Arena ‘island’
  • the bridge being an iconic structure for Bristol and its new Arena?
  • the risk of future flooding of the River Avon (climate change).

With all this in our minds, we set to work! The group split into three smaller design teams, each with their own ideas about what the bridge would look like. In my team, we decided we wanted to create either a suspension bridge or a cable-stayed bridge. This would be so that it would create the appearance of a ship’s sails from afar – echoing Bristol’s shipping history! We had a lot of discussion over what type of bridge it would be – whether to go for a suspension bridge that similar to the one over Avon Gorge, and that could be curved, or to go for a cable-stayed bridge that would be more structurally sound (this was the one endorsed by Fiona!). Once we had settled on our design, we drew up our design concepts,  ready to present to the other groups.

The two other groups came up with some really cool designs. The first group presented their aptly named “Alan’s Bridge” which consisted of a couple of overlapping paths that were designed for all the different users (pedestrians, cyclists and car drivers). It was really futuristic and like something I’d never seen before, and it would have definitely become an iconic structure for Bristol.

The other group came up with a similar overlapping shape, but with a completely different spin on it. They looked at the existing roads and tried to create a design that would fit with them – taking the users  across two different overlapping routes. It was Fiona that spotted the only issue with this design – that the cars would end up on the wrong side of the road! However, she explained how a bridge like theirs had been used to span the border of two countries, swapping from one side to another, as the traffic system was different in the two countries. The group refined their design, and came up with a modified suggestion that looked just as good and functioned even better!

This week’s design brief was really interesting, not just because we were designing bridges, but because it is such a current topic! Shortly after the session, an article was released in the local press saying that work has begun on the bridge over the River Avon, connecting roads to the site where the Bristol Arena would be. The fact that this happened so shortly after the session left a few of us wondering if it was any coincidence! The Architecture Centre really does try to make the context of our session relevant and topical!

We rounded off the workshop with Fiona’s ‘hot seat’ session, where we were lucky enough to get the advice she would give her 16 year old self, knowing what she knows now about her life and career. ! Then with that, we ended our fourth Shape My City session.

As one of the 'City Shapers', I really enjoyed the workshop! I felt that it gave me a great insight into the world of engineering, and the design task was lots of fun - I’m looking forward the next one!

Fiona also reflected on the session:
‘The participants showed great creativity in their designs for a new bridge to the Arena site.  I was really impressed by the way they considered the spatial geometry of the approaches as well as the appearance and structural function of the bridge.  The solutions produced were attractive and anticipated a full range of active travellers once the construction of the Arena was complete.  It would be very interesting to see their comments on the actual bridge, which is just starting on site’She added 'The young people certainly demonstrated the skills that RAEng have highlighted in their report on how to Think Like an Engineer'.

If you would like more information on careers in engineering visit the Institute of Structural Engineers and the Institution of Civil Engineers and Tomorrow's Engineers.