For most of the week, the new Merchant Square Footbridge in London does what we expect of a bridge: It helps people get from one place to another. But a truly great bridge adds to the character of its environment, and the Merchant Square Footbridge does that, too. Every Friday afternoon, it heaves open like a 60-foot-tall Japanese hand fan.
The bridge was designed by Knight Architects, a London firm specializing in bridges, in collaboration with structural engineers AKT II. It spans the Grand Union Canal in Paddington Basin, near a public space called Sunset Terrace. The brief called for a bridge with eight feet of clearance, so boats could pass into the basin beyond, but also one that could serve as a “focal point” for the area. In a write-up of the project, the architects explained their thinking: “We considered that movement in the horizontal plane would not be interesting— no more so than a 20 meter narrowboat turning in the canal—but in contrast, how much more exciting it would be if a 20 meter narrowboat were raised upright!” […]