LUO Studio’s arched timber bridge in Gulou Waterfront aims for rural revitalisation

Spanning a narrow water body in Gulou Waterfront Resort, this latticed wooden structure is defined by intricate joinery and a definitive callback to the region’s cultural roots.

by Anmol AhujaPublished on : Mar 17, 2022

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 bridge spans 25m over a local waterway in the resort | Timber Bridge in Gulou Waterfront  | LUO Studio | STIRworld
    The bridge spans 25m over a local waterway in the resort Image: Jin Weiqi
  • The bridge provides access to small fishing vessels and large tour ships through it | Timber Bridge in Gulou Waterfront  | LUO Studio | STIRworld
    The bridge provides access to small fishing vessels and large tour ships through it Image: Jin Weiqi
  • The bridge’s local context comprising low lying tidal landforms | Timber Bridge in Gulou Waterfront  | LUO Studio | STIRworld
    The bridge’s local context comprising low lying tidal landforms Image: Courtesy of LUO Studio

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 design of the bridge in timber seeks to revitalise the region’s ingenious culture and tradition | Timber Bridge in Gulou Waterfront  | LUO Studio | STIRworld
    The design of the bridge in timber seeks to revitalise the region’s ingenious culture and tradition Image: Jin Weiqi
  • The height of the archway has been determined keeping in mind the passage of large tour ships, measuring roughly 4m from the surface of the water | Timber Bridge in Gulou Waterfront  | LUO Studio | STIRworld
    The height of the archway has been determined keeping in mind the passage of large tour ships, measuring roughly 4m from the surface of the water Image: Jin Weiqi

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.

  • Entrance to the bridge’s corridor walkway | Timber Bridge in Gulou Waterfront  | LUO Studio | STIRworld
    Entrance to the bridge’s corridor walkway Image: Jin Weiqi
  • Undulating levels and viewing platforms break the monotony of a linear avenue | Timber Bridge in Gulou Waterfront  | LUO Studio | STIRworld
    Undulating levels and viewing platforms break the monotony of a linear avenue Image: Jin Weiqi

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.

  • Passage on one side of the entrance | Timber Bridge in Gulou Waterfront  | LUO Studio | STIRworld
    Passage on one side of the entrance Image: Jin Weiqi
  • Closeup of timber details and ‘substructural’ wooden elements used | Timber Bridge in Gulou Waterfront  | LUO Studio | STIRworld
    Closeup of timber details and ‘substructural’ wooden elements used Image: Jin Weiqi

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.

  • Model of the bridge showcasing its skeletal structure | Timber Bridge in Gulou Waterfront  | LUO Studio | STIRworld
    Model of the bridge showcasing its skeletal structure Image: Courtesy of LUO Studio
  • Model showing fixage of the metal plates over the exterior of the corridor | Timber Bridge in Gulou Waterfront  | LUO Studio | STIRworld
    Model showing fixage of the metal plates over the exterior of the corridor Image: Courtesy of LUO Studio

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.

  • Site level plan | Timber Bridge in Gulou Waterfront  | LUO Studio | STIRworld
    Site level plan Image: Courtesy of LUO Studio
  • Top view of the bridge | Timber Bridge in Gulou Waterfront  | LUO Studio | STIRworld
    Top View of the bridge Image: Courtesy of LUO Studio
  • Elevation and section  | Timber Bridge in Gulou Waterfront  | LUO Studio | STIRworld
    Elevation and section Image: Courtesy of LUO Studio

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.

  • Axonometric diagram  | Timber Bridge in Gulou Waterfront  | LUO Studio | STIRworld
    Axonometric diagram Image: Courtesy of LUO Studio
  • Corridor enclosure structural diagram  | Timber Bridge in Gulou Waterfront  | LUO Studio | STIRworld
    Corridor enclosure structural diagram Image: Courtesy of LUO Studio
  • Exploded view of the bridge’s structural layers  | Timber Bridge in Gulou Waterfront  | LUO Studio | STIRworld
    Exploded view of the bridge’s structural layers Image: Courtesy of LUO Studio
  • Wooden frame sections  | Timber Bridge in Gulou Waterfront  | LUO Studio | STIRworld
    Wooden frame sections Image: Courtesy of LUO Studio

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.

03 mins watch Composed of intricate natural wooden joinery and structural details, the timber bridge in Gulou Waterfront Resort LUO Studio is a definitive callback to the region’s cultural heritage | Timber Bridge in Gulou Waterfront  | LUO Studio | STIRworld
Composed of intricate natural wooden joinery and structural details, the timber bridge in Gulou Waterfront Resort LUO Studio is a definitive callback to the region’s cultural heritage Video: Jin Weiqi, Xiao Shiming

Project Details

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

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