V&A Waterfront Swing Bridge

Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

The V&A swing bridge is a new pedestrian bridge located in Cape Town’s Waterfront in South Africa. The bridge was designed to deal with the increased volume of visitors to the V&A Waterfront and Zeitz MOCAA – Museum of Contemporary Art Africa.

V&A Waterfront Bridge Official Opening

Thursday the 11 of July 2019 marked the official opening of the pedestrian bridge at the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa. John Anderson (SMEC) opened with a speech about the design of the bridge and its challenges, the unveiling followed by the mayor Dan Plato. COA (design team: Ian Gray & Michal Korycki) joint ventured with SMEC on this prestigious project.

Craft of Architecture awarded Steel Awards 2020

Craft of Architecture was awarded the Steel Awards 2020 for the V&A Waterfront Swing Bridge in Cape Town, South Africa

The story of the V&A Waterfront’s new swing bridge

The serenity to accept what could not be changed, the courage to change what could, and the wisdom to know the difference, is why the V&A Waterfront’s updated swing bridge is a success.

“As designers we first had to learn about the constraints.What you can’t change. We work from that,”

Michal Korycki
Architect and director
Craft of Architecture (COA).

With the anticipation of the increased number of pedestrians crossing the channel to and from the Zeitz MOCAA and the popular Silo District the limitations of the old bridge were identified few years back. What was the solution? Well that was the question. Called onto the project by respected bridge engineer John Anderson, SMEC’s Functional General Manager for Structures, the COA team knew it was going to be a learning  journey. Recognised for their creative process and visual communication, COA were brought into a briefing process to perform site analysis, reviewing the existing bridge design and pedestrian movements. This research would reveal the project’s key features, opportunities and challenges.

The architects embarked on a mission to create a 3D model of the entire site, meticulously mapping out all its relevant features, as well as the surroundings. Michal explains how this digital environment enables them to swiftly test ideas and explore ‘what if’ scenarios, directing their focus in the right direction.

Michal explains that after agreeing upon the master plan concept, they restart the process, delving into each design component repeatedly until they refine even the smallest detail.

During the urban form work phase, they meticulously plotted out various scenarios, including different types of bridges, modifications to the existing bridge, and the addition of a second bridge. Each option underwent evaluation on a matrix sheet, considering its cost and viability. Eventually, they determined that the installation of a new swing bridge was the best recommendation.

“Our aim was to enrich the urban environment and elevate the overall experience within this celebrated precinct. Additionally, we were mindful of preserving the unobstructed view-line for those on the water, whether looking towards or away from the cut. To achieve both objectives, we ingeniously leaned the bridge tower back.”

Michal Korycki

In order to ensure a smooth transition from the old to the new bridge without disrupting the commercial environment of the V&A, the team decided to position the new bridge alongside the old one. This clever approach allowed the old bridge to remain operational for five out of the six months of installation.

The project was not without its challenges. There were numerous obstacles, including the harbour wall, which we couldn’t reinforce, added Michal Korycki.

In the past, the harbour wall had been constructed by piling loose rocks and boulders and cladding them over. The team’s main concern was not destabilizing this “pile of marbles” supporting the old quay wall. To address this, they meticulously stabilized the boulder mass by drilling small holes into the bedrock and injecting concrete to create “mini piles.” This required the new bridge to be carefully balanced to bear directly down into the rock.

Rather than performing extensive land works, the team decided to construct the bridge remotely. They opted for a unique design where a backwards-leaning tower took on the load instead of traditional cables. This ingenious approach allowed the entire bridge to pivot on its foundation.

The bridge was strategically planted on a giant slew bearing, ensuring that as it rotated, it bore onto different piles, with some in tension and others in compression. This arrangement provided the required restraint as the bridge moved, pushing on one edge and being held back on another.

In addition to its functional excellence, the bridge’s form had to be exquisite. Inspired by modern maritime design and seeking to contrast with the maritime designs of the past, the team aimed to create a contemporary bridge with a seamless flow from top to bottom, devoid of any interruptions in its design.

But, how do you bring a sideways swinging 42-metre, 55-ton bridge to a stop when your only resisting force to slow it is vertically downwards into a rock foundation surrounded by boulders leaning precariously on each other?

“We paired pile couplings in the foundation, one to push and create tension, the other to pull and ease it,”

John Anderson 

SMEC’s Functional General Manager for Structures

In part this meant no bulky hand railings, which previously contributed stability. Now the bridge had to be carried by the strength of a cantilevered beam along the centre which, decked with timber, now also provides a convenient place to sit.

“Once we were more or less happy with the overall design we started looking at the visual experience of people nearby and those walking over the bridge. To help the eye rest on the beam and mast we made the balustrade as near to invisible as possible, as was the underside of the bridge.”

Inspired by stealthy yachts and modern sailing boats the team considered giving the bridge a dark colour, but we realised that seagulls would be quick to put white splats all over it. So we went for a light grey, explains Michal. The teams’ intention was to answer this complex requirement with a simple design. It needed to be refined, timeless, contemporary and unique.

Creating a bridge that could accommodate thousands of people crossing it every day, have manual operation if the power died and was simple to maintain throughout its lifespan, meant the architectural statement made by the new swing bridge is a beautiful answer to the question posed right at the beginning, of how exactly to do it.

When you next cross the bridge, taking it all in at a single glance, consider if this isn’t a picture worth a thousand words?