The countryside and the rivers

In order to innovate and optimize the inland shipping connection Antwerp-Paris, also called the Schelde-Seine Course, bridges all over Belgium and France are being replaced, channels deepened, banks relocated, and quays renewed. This is also the case where the river Schelde runs through the town of Wetteren. The old footbridge that connected the two parts of town, needed to be replaced by a new one that met the demands of higher vertical clearance.

Wetteren on the Schelde

The new bicycle bridge at Wetteren is aligned with the choir of the St Gertrudis Church and the market square. This has all to do with the ambitious development of the centre of town, branded Wetteren on the Schelde. A new complex of multi-storied buildings, also housing the new town hall, giving urban energy to the centre of Wetteren. By activating the neglected zone behind the church, the new plan turns the town facing towards the river again, meanwhile striking a new connection with the part of town across the river at a location that has a lot to offer as a pleasant urban area. Crossing the river Schelde over the bridge by bicycle or on foot is like being lifted from the countryside dominated by rivers and led into the heart of Wetteren through a raised gate.

The tower and the pylon

The design, by architects ZJA, for the bicycle bridge rests on two guiding principles. First, that the bridge provides a functional and visual connection to the centre of Wetteren, that is mainly dominated by the St Gertrudis Church with its remarkably high nave and the 65 meters high tower. Secondly, that the river itself, winding its way in slow and elegant bends through the countryside near Wetteren, remains as open and spacious as possible.

This resulted in the design for a cable-stayed bridge with a nearly 50 meters high pylon, reclining slightly in the river bend like the white shadow of the church tower, and supporting the deck with four strong cables. The ramp leading up to the bridge is long, makes a wide turn, offering a splendid view over the countryside, the river and Wetteren itself. Crossing the river from the Overschelde bank offers an impressive spatial experience, being led to the market square and the church seven meters high above the river and the quays.

A bicycle bridge as connecting element

The design of the bicycle bridge in Wetteren uses contrasting elements to make a connection. The bricks of the church and the bricks of the new development along the bank are in tune, the same goes for the silhouettes of the roofs. The volumes are high and wide, the streets leading to the new square are long and narrow.

The bridge however aims to make a light and slender impression. The pylon is the opposite of the church tower, insisting to be distinctly different. Strong enough to carry pedestrians and cyclists across the river, but first of all instrumental to the experience of open space and getting the most out of the movement over streets and river. The slender deck, the bright colours of the long and comfortable stairway, the ramp to the bridge with its columns designed at minimal width and the spectacular curve all support that experience. New and old, light and dark, steel and brick, urban and countryside, land and water, the bicycle bridge at Wetteren joins the opposites in an elegant fashion.

Client: De Vlaamse Waterweg
Aannemer: THV BAM Contractors Aelterman
Structural engineering: SBE
Steel contractor: Aelterman
Landscape architect: OKRA Landschapsarchitecten
Inauguration: 2018

Photograph: OKRA Landschapsarchitecten, Marc Van Wezemael and Wesley Poelman

Project: #674