THE NEW Spencer Dock bridge in the Dublin docklands won the Best Structural Design prize at a Leaf (Leading European Architects Forum) awards ceremony in Berlin last night. The awards, now in their sixth year, are given to those who “have made an outstanding contribution to the world of architectural design” and for buildings that set benchmarks.
“It is great to get a structural award because the structure was where the innovation lay in this bridge,” said Amanda Levete of Amanda Levete Architects who worked on the sculptural bridge with Arup engineers.
Also on the structural award shortlist was a glass staircase in the National Bank of Denmark by Dissing + Weitling Architecture, and a timber tower in east London by Waugh Thistleon Architects. “The shortlisted structures all really pushed out the boat technically and it was a real honour to win,” said Ms Levete.
Two other Irish projects shortlisted in the Leaf awards, run by the Arena International Events Group, were in the public building category. The new Westmeath County Council offices by Bucholz McEvoy Architects and the Wexford opera house by Keith Williams Architects and the Office of Public Works were up against strong competition. This included the restoration of the Neus Museum in Berlin by David Chipperfield Architects and Julian Harrap Architects, and the Zaragoza Bridge Pavilion in Spain by Zaha Hadid Architects. The winner was a community centre by GPY Arcquitectos based in Tenerife.
Both the Wexford Opera House and the Spencer Dock bridge are also on the shortlist for the World Architecture Festival awards. “It is very interesting the number of Irish projects that are on that shortlist,” said Ms Levete. “It suggests that clients and local authorities in Ireland are open to innovative new designs. What I like about working in Ireland is that there is a hunger for quality work.”
Ms Levete won the contract to design the 40m-long Spencer Dock canal bridge, which will carry the Luas when it is extended to the docklands next year, with her former husband the late Jan Kaplicky when they were in practice together as Future Systems. “I think the reason why we won the project was because of what we saw in the proportions,” she said. “The bridge is very wide and doesn’t naturally lend itself to a very elegant form. They way we saw it was almost as a piece of the landscape, rather than a bridge. We emphasised the horizontal.”
The bridge’s below-deck undulating form contrasts with the nearby Calatrava bridge on the Liffey, with its above-deck harp-like structure. The Spencer Dock bridge, which opened on Bloomsday this year, is next to the flat side wall of the National Conference Centre and shows how complex curved structures can be calm, whereas the conference centre’s glass “motor bike helmet” juts over the Liffey.
The white concrete Spencer Dock bridge, whose underside gently merges into its piers, was partly created with computer-cut polystyrene formwork. The bridge, which will also take pedestrians and motors, has sloped viewing decks at either side.
Levete is also working on two office projects in London for Irish developers Paddy McKillen and Tony Leonard of Clarendon Properties. There were nine categories in this year’s Leaf awards and the overall winner was the Qatar Science and Technology Park by Woods Bagot. Past winners include the America’s Cup building in Valencia by David Chipperfield Architects, Beijing airport terminal by Foster + Partners and GSC Offices in the US by Skidmore, Owings Merrill.