Suikerbrug, Veurne

Ingeniously inserted new connection for pedestrians and cyclists

Modest in appearance and ingeniously slotted into the available space. In Veurne, Belgium, the cycle bridge designed by architectural studio ZJA – in collaboration with structural engineers Mouton, landscape architects Omgeving and contractors TM Furnibo-Persyn – will connect the new residential area on the former sugar refinery site to the centre of town. The slender steel bridge has user-friendly slopes that are not too steep, and it almost seems to float above the road and canal. In Veurne you will soon be able to cycle through the treetops and across the water into the old city.

Slender cycle bridge over canal and road

In the part of Flanders known as the Westhoek, up against the French border, lies the old fortified city of Veurne. A busy provincial highway runs parallel to the canal that leads to Nieuwpoort. The canal and the road form a barrier between the terrain of the former sugar refinery, now ripe for redevelopment, and the town centre. A new cycle route will open up this new living and working area, as well as giving visitors on bicycles access to the heart of town. ZJA designed the light and slender bridge over the road and the canal, which extends to the lock island and then takes cyclists and pedestrians into town across the lock, via a short, narrow bridge section.

Complex location with limited space

It sounds like a simple assignment, but the view from the air makes it immediately clear that a cycle bridge at this location needs to meet some difficult requirements. Space is extremely limited. On the east side of the road is the Suikerpark (Sugar Park), which is being transformed into a green residential district. Between an industrial estate and a block of housing is a narrow strip of green where the bridge can make the crossing. Ideally it should be well away from the homes, but it is impossible to avoid giving it a loop so that cyclists are not faced with too steep a slope. This demands space. The same goes for the section on the narrow island between the canal and the lock. Here too, a friendly incline is required, necessitating a large loop, in other words a spiral approach. To avoid these loops dominating the surrounding area, the bridge has been kept as slender as possible.

Bridge with minimal visual impact

On the east side, the spiral approach is placed behind greenery as far as possible, creating a filter between cyclists and apartments. New trees, seating and a wadi that collects and retains rainwater ensure a scenic link between the cycle bridge and its surroundings. The deck of the bridge is designed as a flat plate, so as to minimize its visual impact on the surroundings. The bridge has a maximum free span where it crosses the road and canal, a thin steel deck and extremely thin steel columns (8 cm!). The balustrades are minimal too. The cycle bridge almost disappears into its densely built and busy environment.

Flexible design

Steel bridges expand and shrink. This bicycle bridge does not have the expansion joints traditionally used to compensate. Instead it has been designed so flexibly that it can expand and shrink as the temperature changes without this creating excessive concentrations of tension. It is a game of interrelationships. The columns need to be flexible enough to absorb the thermal distortions but stiff enough to guarantee stability. A V-shaped column next to the Vaartstraat provides the bridge with an anchor that absorbs the horizontal forces and at the same time forms a recognizable silhouette.

Unusual foundations

The structure of the bridge’s foundations on the island, next to the historic lock gates, deserves special mention. The old structures are fragile, so the foundation piles of the bridge are not directly under the columns of the slope. Instead a system of cantilevered concrete beams has been created. This means that the foundation piles are as far as possible from the old lock, thereby protecting historical heritage against the influence of the new structure. Designing a bridge that is as invisible as possible from its surroundings has actually produced a distinctive silhouette. The bridge is exceptional in its simplicity.

Commissioned by: Municipality of Veurne
Architect: ZJA
Landscape architect: OMGEVING
Structural engineer: Mouton
Contractor: TM Furnibo - Persyn
Year: 2023 - present

Project: #1265



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