Looking Sharp: Blade-Like Bridge Slices Through the Air

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Five blade-like beams slice into the sky when this cantilevered footbridge in London’s Merchant Square rises to make way for boats moving along the Grand Union Canal. The movement of its dynamic design is inspired by the opening and closing of a traditional hand-held fan, the steel elements separating as they’re lifted into the air by hydraulic jacks.

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Designed by Knight Architects and AKT II, the bridge spans a 20-meter (65-foot) section of the canal. The beams weigh six to seven tons each, and are balanced by a 40-ton counterweight. When fully open, the bottom blade hovers about 8 feet over the surface of the water. When closed, the bridge offers a flat and comparatively unremarkable surface that pedestrians can cross three-abreast.

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Envisioned as a kinetic sculpture, the design beat out dozens of others in a 2012 contest. Like Thomas Heatherwick’s nearby Rolling Bridge, which curls into a ball as it opens, the new bridge rises every Friday and is considered a landmark for the area.