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
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1347 GMT (2147 HKT)
The Green Vault in Dresden Castle houses one of the largest collections of jewels and objets d'art in Europe.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1610 GMT (0010 HKT)
Forty-three years before the first issue of Playboy hit newsstands, Egon Schiele released some of the most shocking nudes of the century.
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 0345 GMT (1145 HKT)
The Chinese leadership has called for less "weird architecture" to be built in the country. Does it mean the end of structures like these?
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1403 GMT (2203 HKT)
Luxury enthusiasts, rejoice: Fondation Louis Vuitton is bringing its upscale tastes to the art world with a new museum.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1334 GMT (2134 HKT)
Today, mourning a loved one means donning the most formal black outfit in one's closet. But 150 years ago, it meant buying a whole new wardrobe.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Some artists are obsessed with making things tiny. Others are into vastness. Here are incredible works from both ends of the size spectrum.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 1921 GMT (0321 HKT)
Close one eye, and it could almost -- almost -- pass for a regular underground train. Close the other, and it looks like a space shuttle from Star Trek.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 1431 GMT (2231 HKT)
Soup that is rumored to be radioactive; 10 people sharing a single silk hat. It could only be Frieze London, one of the world's leading art fairs.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1422 GMT (2222 HKT)
Contemporary Chinese art can be a thorny jungle for the uninitiated. Here are the movements and artists you need to know.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 0939 GMT (1739 HKT)
In spite of all the sexier pictures around us, the titillating pin-ups of the early 20th century are still in demand.
October 9, 2014 -- Updated 1150 GMT (1950 HKT)
Iris has autism and cannot speak, but her stunning paintings sell for thousands of dollars.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Here's a look at the world's finest feats of facial hair, from sculpted sideburns to manicured mustaches.
ADVERTISEMENT