Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

How Leonardo DiCaprio inspired a stunning bridge that doubles as a park

By Joseph Flaherty, Wired
February 25, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
If architect <a href='http://www.heatherwick.com/' target='_blank'>Thomas Heatherwick</a> has his way, the River Thames will soon have a new plant-filled pedestrian crossing inspired in part by Leonardo DiCaprio. If architect Thomas Heatherwick has his way, the River Thames will soon have a new plant-filled pedestrian crossing inspired in part by Leonardo DiCaprio.
HIDE CAPTION
London's Garden Bridge
London's Garden Bridge
London's Garden Bridge
London's Garden Bridge
London's Garden Bridge
London's Garden Bridge
London's Garden Bridge
London's Garden Bridge
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The River Thames might soon have a new plant-filled pedestrian crossing inspired in part by a famous Titanic scene.
  • Engineers promise to use species of plants that can cope with the specific river environment and that thrive in each season.
  • The Garden Bridge is expected to cost 245 million dollars, mostly raised from private backers.

Editor's note: Joseph Flaherty writes about design, DIY, and the intersection of physical and digital products. He designs award-winning medical devices and apps for smartphones at AgaMatrix, including the first FDA-cleared medical device that connects to the iPhone.

(Wired) -- Many of England's bridges have become pop culture icons—London Bridge inspired a song known by kindergarteners the world over and the Tower Bridge has its own Lego set. However, if architect Thomas Heatherwick has his way, the River Thames will soon have a new plant-filled pedestrian crossing inspired in part by Leonardo DiCaprio. (More on that in a second.)

The Garden Bridge will span the 1,204 foot-wide river and contain 2 million pounds of soil, giving root to 270 trees, as well as innumerable shrubs, bushes, and flowers. The project is led by actress Joanna Lumley, star of the cult favorite Absolutely Fabulous. Inspired to commemorate Princess Diana's death, she labored for over a decade establishing a trust to secure financing and political support.

As pedestrians proceed, stately oaks and manicured shrubs will dot the landscape. In 2012 she turned to architect Thomas Heatherwick, who crafted the cauldron for the London Olympics and successfully redesigned the city's iconic double-decker buses, to help make it a reality.

This is no mean feat. "We need to hold up this large weight, complete with worms, rainwater and decomposing leafy mulch, without letting the bridge structure become visually more important than the garden," says Heatherwick. "To do this and not resort to tall steel columns and cables that compete with the trees on the bridge, we are bunching all our structure underneath the garden around the two river columns."

Read more: These shimmering LED installations transport you to an alternate universe

It's not surprising that for centuries it has been treated like an obstacle to breach, rather than an opportunity for people to spend time above a vast piece of nature in the heart of our city.
Thomas Heatherwick

So how does Leo figure in? Distributing the weight to the two pylons necessitates an hourglass shape. The perimeter could have been smoothed, but Heatherwick saw potential in a saw-toothed solution. He was inspired by the scene in Titanic when DiCaprio took Kate Winslet to the bow of their doomed ship and proclaimed, "I'm the king of the world!"

Adding these ridges to the perimeter creates semi-private "balconies" allowing couples to reenact the scene. His hope is that this feature, and others, provide places to pass the time, kiss, and even propose while traversing the city.

The design thinking that goes beyond movie catchphrases, romantic notions and the landscape has been carefully orchestrated. Plants near the entryways on either side will be wild common river varieties like birches and willows. As pedestrians proceed, stately oaks and manicured shrubs will dot the landscape, and the center of the bridge will have little vegetation to create better views of the river and skyline.

The concept is conceptually similar to other elevated gardens like New York's High Line or Paris' Promenade plantée, but the technical challenge is ratcheted up given its location over the river and the new construction that's required.

Structural engineering firm Arup and landscape designer Dan Pearson helped give the concept form, while dealing with the unique technical challenges of a green bridge. "We will only be using plants which we feel will cope with the special challenges posed by a garden in the middle of a river," says Pearson, who also promises that there will be species that thrive in each season, giving residents and tourists something to look at no matter when they cross.

Read more: Mind-blowing portraits made of test tubes and pushpins

Heatherwick's design takes advantage of modern materials and simulation, but he believes it's more of a throwback to the London Bridge of Henry VIII's reign. During that time the bridge contained homes, shops, and was a center of commerce and community as well as a river crossing.

However, since the last building was demolished in 1762, bridges have become more utilitarian. "It's not surprising that for centuries it has been treated like an obstacle to breach, rather than an opportunity for people to spend time above a vast piece of nature in the heart of our city," says Heatherwick.

The Garden Bridge is expected to cost $245 million, and Lumley has already raised half that amount from private backers. London Mayor Boris Johnson has promised another $50 million, and if the trust set up to fund the project can harvest the balance of the seed money, it could be ready by the spring of 2017.

Read more from WIRED:

Powerful Photos Go Deep Inside America's Fracking Boom

How a Math Genius Hacked OkCupid to Find True Love

The Most Amazing Images NASA Took of Earth From Space

A Teeny House Filled With Clever, Space-Saving Contraptions

11 Must-Watch New Netflix Movies to Stream in 2014

Subscribe to WIRED magazine for less than $1 an issue and get a FREE GIFT! Click here!

Copyright 2011 Wired.com.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
CNN Style
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1009 GMT (1809 HKT)
Imagine watching the northern lights through the transparent roof of your own glass igloo. CNN takes a look at the most awe-inspiring hideouts.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1001 GMT (1801 HKT)
Photographer Romain Jacquet-Lagrѐze captures the giant skyscrapers swamping Hong Kong
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
It's largely devoid of human life -- the Arctic is surely the worst possible destination for an arts festival.
August 11, 2014 -- Updated 1039 GMT (1839 HKT)
Beauty with purpose - these impressive clocks stun with their intricacy, history and grandeur.
August 6, 2014 -- Updated 0722 GMT (1522 HKT)
An image showing a proposed floating snowflake hotel to be built in Norway.
Opening in December 2016, The Krystall Hotel might melt hearts as guests check into this giant floating snowflake
August 5, 2014 -- Updated 1337 GMT (2137 HKT)
Wim Noorduin, a Harvard scientist, creates delicate micro-sculptures of flowers using a chemical reaction.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Designer Justin Plunkett layers photos and computer-generated illustration to create Mad Max-like images of post-apocalyptic architecture.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2054 GMT (0454 HKT)
CNN went to the International Talent Support contest in Trieste, Italy, to find out who will be the next big name in fashion design.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Photograph of an undisclosed location by Patrycja Makowska
Patrycja Makowska's enigmatic images show crumbling palaces with ornate ballrooms, swirling staircases, and grand rooms strewn with rubble.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 0556 GMT (1356 HKT)
From Maastricht to Melbourne, CNN brings you the most extraordinary and beautifully designed bookshops in the world.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Photographer Joan Fontcuberta plays with reality and fiction, giving goats wings, and adorning monkeys with unicorn horns.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1046 GMT (1846 HKT)
L.A. artist Christine McConnell styles herself as a glamorous pin-up, but her sumptuous cakes evoke the Tim Burton-esque realm of fantasy.
ADVERTISEMENT