by Almas SadiqueAug 09, 2023
Copious amounts of history and a unique geographical heritage underline the design development and construction of this timber bridge, one of many in the region that aid in an age-old method of conveyance and transit. The bridge's design language, comprising its form and especially unitary materiality, seems a concerted effort at semi-urban cultural revitalisation through the larger Gulou Waterfront Resort in Jiangmen, Guangdong, China. The resort is intended as a destination for eco-cultural tourism in the rapidly urbanising Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay belt, seeking to encourage nature education, parent-child recreation, along with fishing and husbandry activities in the area. In this scheme of things, the bridge, though a relatively small intervention in scalar terms, is testament to the transformative capacity of architecture, serving to be a literal connector between temporal planes.
The uniquely urban albeit low lying morphology of the Gulou region has been dotted with a tidal landform, comprising sophisticated water systems of dug-out ponds and mounds for fishing and farming. The resultant fragmented landscape found such bridges as common occurrences, helping people cross over, while also forming avenues for people to use the waterways beneath them. The aptly arched bridge, designed by Beijing-based LUO Studio, thus develops on the premise of preserving this unique spatial fabric, while the resort maintains and overlooks the basic local water system.
The wooden bridge as a typology in architectural and structural design has been vastly employed in China, and is easily seen linking with a "traditional" way of building, also given the abundance of natural forests in Southern China. Since the bridge acts to provide access to small fishing vessels and large tour ships through it, the rise of the arch is carefully determined to be roughly four metres higher than the surface of the water, including the arch’s bottom at 1.35m above the water level, and 2.8m for the arched structure itself, consisting of an ensconced walkway within. Based on further geological surveys, the span of the bridge is set at 25.2m.
An exhaustive structural feat, the bridge’s design utilises three large curved beams as primary structural components that bear a majority of the load, following thorough structural and construction analyses by LUO Studio. The curved beams are arranged parallelly, spaced at 2.8m from each other. With due consideration to manufacturing and transportation costs, each main beam is further divided into three sections at appropriate point load positions, connected and assembled in-situ using steel-strengthened bolts.
On land, the bridge spans a ridge between a dense traditional commercial street and a children’s recreation area. In a stark contrast to other open landscape bridges in the resort, LUO Studio’s design harbours a covered corridor space on the timber bridge, with an aim to accentuate, even dramatise in a way, the transition between the commerce of the street and the frolic of the recreational area. According to the design studio, a sense of ceremony is imparted to the seemingly ordinary crossing over through the bridge, with its perspectives coming to resemble a truncated wooden sanctum. Apart from the intangible experience the bridge aims to provide, the covered corridor approach allows the structure to be strengthened against potential rain, moisture, and oxidation damage. The exterior of the corridor space is covered with layers of metal plates, cascading in form, effectively protecting it from rain and creating a sense of cohesion.
The remaining structure of the bridge, also imparting the bridge its skeletal form in appearance, emanates from the three primary beams akin to the branches of a tree. Wooden sections measuring 600mm x 300mm, 100mm x 100mm, and 100mm x 50mm are interlocked and anchored to the three main arched beams, functioning as sub-beams on the upper and lower levels. The vertical load on the bridge is thus triangularly distributed by the two ends of the sub-beams being combined with upward components.
The entrances to the bridge are marked by variable heights, reducing in volume and then rhythmically rising again as one passes through the bridge. This is owing to the rest of the bridge’s profile being largely rectangular, while the base responds to the arching curve over the water. The linear perspective of the bridge and its supposed monotony is countered through the placement of two viewing platforms on either side, appended by horizontal connecting rods in the middle section all through the bridge’s length for additional structural stability.
The structure is the de facto victory in the design and construction of this bridge, employing method and manner to solve each joint in a rare non-parametricised approach. For instance, the spacing between neighbouring substructures is set at a 1000mm, equating to three paces or steps. The length of each external metal plate is regulated at 900mm to appropriate it for industrial manufacturing, transporting, and installation. Furthermore, the 900mm length of timber frames also provides a suitable space for a single person to stand, lean, and rest. Linear crevices - well intentioned gaps in the placement of horizontal members on the floor and roof of the bridge filter light through them to create 'walls' of sunlight in the walkway within, just as the elaborate wooden architecture and structural joinery is laid bare for visitors to witness.
Name: Timber Bridge in Gulou Waterfront
Location: Gulou Waterfront, Jiangmen, Guangdong, China
Design studio: LUO studio
Total Spatial Area: 166 sq.m.
Wooden Bridge Body Size: 25.2m x 7.3m x 8.6m
Primary Materials: Pine wood, Concrete, Aluminum plate, Glass
Client: Jiangmen OCT Co., Ltd.
Design/ Construction instruction: Luo Yujie, Lu Zhuojian, Wang Beilei
Structural Consulting: LaLu Structural Consulting
Construction Firm: Shenzhen Zhenhui Architectural Engineering Co., Ltd.
Wood Material Suppliers: SHENGTEHAOSEN, KINGSPINE-HOUSE
Lighting Fixture Supplier: Meteor Shower