Foster+Partners design wins Upper Orwell bridge competition

Foster+Partners has been selected as the architect for the circa £100m Upper Orwell Crossings project, winning a design competition held by RIBA on behalf of Suffolk County Council. Foster+Partners' design features two main structures as the solution to building three new crossings of the Orwell to improve road, cycleway and pedestrian connectivity in Ipswich and aid regeneration of the town's Wet Dock area.

WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff and Kier have worked for Suffolk County Council to develop the outline proposal, considering 18 different options for improving transport connections across the River Orwell's east and west banks and the Wt Dock Island.

The preferred option, which has been awarded £77m of government funding towards the project's total cost, consisted of three crossings: a road bridge across the Orwell south of the Wet Dock Island; a second road bridge across the New Cut from the west bank of the Orwell to the Island; and a pedestrian and cycleway crossing between the Island and the east bank.

Foster+Partners' innovative design combines the main road bridge and the foot and cycleway crossing in one structure, with two separate bridge decks sharing the same pier supports where the footway crosses between the east and west banks. The main bridge will rise high enough to maintain navigation to and from the docks beneath the structure instead of featuring a mechanically opening span.

The planning process for the development is expected to take 18 months after the design and application is completed later this year. Construction could start in 2019 with the bridges opening two to three years later. The design win represents a return to Ipswich for Foster+Partners which designed the town's Willis Building.

The Ipswich MP Ben Gummer, who was also a member of the design competition judging panel, said: “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. Not only are they sensational designs – simple, elegant, beautiful – but they draw on true understanding of the economic rationale for this bridge: jobs, growth, prosperity, sustainability."

Foster+Partners' joint head of design, Spencer de Grey, said: “Ipswich holds a special place in our hearts. The Willis Faber Building was a landmark project for the practice, and we are delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to the town once more.

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

“The project also offers the opportunity to consider the design of the bridges in a wider urban context, creating new promenades and public spaces between the riverfront, inner harbour and island. We look forward to working with the Suffolk County Council to develop and refine our proposals over the coming months to help realise a new urban vision for Ipswich.”

Sir Michael Hopkins, CBE, chaired the judging panel. He said: “The competition has been extremely worthwhile, generating a wide range of strategies for the Upper Orwell Crossings. Apart from the economical elegance of Foster+Partners’ engineering solution, we particularly admired the integration of the pedestrian routes with the principal vehicle crossing which, taken together, will naturally encourage further development of the island.”