Foster wins race to build new bridges over River Orwell at Ipswich port

Overall look of the bridges for the Upper Orwell Crossings from Foster + Partners.

Overall look of the bridges for the Upper Orwell Crossings from Foster + Partners. - Credit: Archant

One of the world’s best-known architect practices has won the race to design three new bridges over the docks in Ipswich.

The lock bridge for pedestrians and cyclists - part of the Upper Orwell Crossings by Foster + Partne

The lock bridge for pedestrians and cyclists - part of the Upper Orwell Crossings by Foster + Partners. - Credit: Archant

Foster + Partners, the group that designed the world-famous Willis building in the heart of the town, will design the bridges that form the Upper Orwell Crossing.

They will link the east and west banks of the River Orwell, providing a new route for cross-town traffic, and also new access to the port’s island site – opening up to development as a new high-technology hub linked to the University of Suffolk.

As well as the Willis building and other public buildings around the world, Foster + Partners has also built a number of world-famous bridges.

They include the Millennium Bridge across the Thames in London which gained a reputation as the “Wobbly Bridge” when it first opened but has since become a hugely popular pedestrian link between St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tate Modern on the South Bank.

The main bridge of the Upper Orwell Crossings. Foster + Partners

The main bridge of the Upper Orwell Crossings. Foster + Partners - Credit: Archant

The partnership won a competition run by Suffolk County Council and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) to become architectural lead for the project.

The Panel, chaired by Sir Michael Hopkins CBE, selected Foster + Partners from a strong shortlist of five internationally renowned teams.

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Foster + Partners impressed the panel by the quality of their overall approach and thinking, including the initial design concepts presented for the project’s three crossings.

The approaches were considered to have the potential to enhance Ipswich’s thriving waterfront, as well as acting as a catalyst for regeneration of the wider harbour area.

The Willis building in Ipswich.

The Willis building in Ipswich. - Credit: Archant

The initial designs will now be developed and land will need to be bought – an exact route for the road over the largest of the bridges over the Orwell has still to be chosen.

Spencer de Grey, Joint Head of Design at Foster + Partners, started his career with the company working on the plans for the Willis building, so was looking forward to working in the town again.

But he said the final designs of the bridges could vary from those which won the competition because architects would have to take account of the exact conditions they find when work starts.

He said: “Ipswich holds a special place in our hearts. The Willis Building was a landmark project for the practice, and we are delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to the town once more.

The Millennium Bridge in London is very popular with pedestrians.

The Millennium Bridge in London is very popular with pedestrians. - Credit: PA

“The design of the bridges focusses on enhancing the experience of crossing the Orwell River, increasing interconnectivity and reducing congestion in the town centre.”

County council leader Colin Noble said there would be further talks with landowners and the community in general – but the authority was determined to keep up the momentum to ensure the work is completed.

It hopes to start work on the bridges in 2020 and the project should be completed by 2023.

Mr Noble said: “The announcement of Foster + Partners being selected as the architectural team behind the Upper Orwell Crossings is a great outcome for Ipswich and Suffolk as a whole.

Foster + Partners designed the Millau Bridge in France.

Foster + Partners designed the Millau Bridge in France. - Credit: AP

“The design element of the project is crucial and with Foster + Partners’ input I believe the final design of the crossings, once completed, will be looked at in the same light as their iconic Willis Building in Ipswich’s town centre.

“We are excited to be working with such a highly-regarded group for this project that is important for the town as it enables us to reap benefits that will greatly outweigh the cost of the project.”

Mr Gummer described the announcement as one of the most important moments for Ipswich for many decades: “It is difficult to overstate the importance both of what the bridge will do and also what it represents.

“The fact that we will have what will be a globally recognised bridge of beauty will say something powerful about our town’s ambition and our place not just in our county, or our region, or our country, but in the world.

Colin Noble and Ben Gummer at the unveiling of the Upper Orwell Crossing proposal

Colin Noble and Ben Gummer at the unveiling of the Upper Orwell Crossing proposal - Credit: Archant

“We were, as a panel, profoundly impressed by the quality of designs brought forward by all of the competition entrants and I would like to thank them for the time and energy and passion that they put into their work.

“However, we were all agreed that the proposal put forward by Foster + Partners was exceptional. They are sensational designs – simple, elegant, beautiful and they draw on true understanding of the economic rationale.”

David Summerfield, Spencer de Grey and Niall Dempsey from Foster + Partners.

David Summerfield, Spencer de Grey and Niall Dempsey from Foster + Partners. - Credit: Archant

Foster + Partners projects:

The list of buildings designed by Foster + Partners reads like a roll call of some of the world’s greatest new landmarks of the last 50 years.

And it was the Willis building in Ipswich that really put the company on the world map – opened in 1975 it still looks modern and futuristic today.

The company designed buildings including the Sainsbury Centre at the University of East Anglia, the American War Museum at Duxford, and the Stansted Airport terminal in this region.

And it was also behind other airport buildings around the world. It rebuilt the old Reichstag building in Berlin and in London built the new Wembley Stadium and the iconic Gherkin building near Liverpool Street Station.

It has also built some of the most impressive bridges of the last quarter century – as well as the Millennium Bridge across the Thames it also built the Millau Viaduct in southern France.

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