Dafne Schippers bridge
By Marijn27-08-2018Popularity:920 Comments

Summary The Dafne Schippers bridge is a design by NEXT architects and Rudy Uytenhaak+Partners Architects i.c.w. Bureau B+B Urbanism and Landscape Architecture and Arup. The project integrates a bicycle and pedestrian bridge with a school and a park, forming a cohesive whole that is harmoniously integrated into the surroundings. The bridge serves as the main, fast connection over the Amsterdam-Rhine canal between the historic city centre of Utrecht and the new district of Leidsche Rijn. This district is the most important development location for the city and the bridge is a key step in making it attractive to present and future inhabitants.

Context and purpose On the city centre side, the bridge lands in the densely built neighbourhood of Oog in Al where two elementary schools were located. The bridge’s unique design integrates the bicycle and pedestrian bridge with a new school building and a public park, forming a single cohesive design. The Dafne Schippers Bridge is the only bridge in the world that is carried by a school roof. This demanded an intense cooperation with all parties involved, the city municipality and the inhabitants.

When cyclists make their way from the centre of Utrecht to the Leidsche Rijn district, a long bend takes them upwards through the Victor Hugo park, passing the garden on the roof of a school, and heading between the trees towards a panoramic view across the canal. This loop over the school’s roof has the big advantage to give the bicycle lane extra length to minimize the ramp’s steepness for its users. With an average inclination of 2,56%, a maximum inclination of 4,05%, the loop is a conformable bicycle trail leading to the bridge. On a daily basis, the Dafne Schippers Bridge allows more than 7.000 cyclists to gain much time on their daily commute between Leidsche Rijn and Utrecht's city centre.

Innovative design The Dafne Schippers Bridge is a ground-anchored suspension bridge with a span of 110 m; the total length including the landings is approximately 280 m. The suspension system has an unsymmetrical arrangement consisting of two steel pylons of different height that support the cable system and the slender concrete deck.

The unsymmetrical configuration was chosen on basis of the geometrical/site requirements, the optimisation of the play of forces of the cables, and the architectural considerations. The lower pylon on the side of the historical city centre that minimises the structure’s impact on the surrounding which is characterised by low rise buildings. The higher pylon stands as a landmark for the new city.

Integration in the environment Key to the bridge success is its integration with the surroundings. In the design, there is no clear-cut distinction between bridge, school and park. The park fluidly merges into the school, creating one continuous green space to learn and to play. The same is true for the bridge deck. By making an extremely slender concrete deck it is possible to terrain the sense of openness and light over the canal.

In order to minimise disruptions to the canal during the in-service life of the bridge, it was chosen to design the deck in concrete. With the exception of the required inspection intervals, a concrete deck does not require regular refurbishing activities as in the case of a steel deck (e.g. required re-painting during the in-service life).

A place for the neighbourhood By integrating functions and making the bridge an integral part of the public space in the neighbourhood, it forms an important meeting point for local residents and schoolchildren. The double land use with maximum space for greenery makes the Dafne Schippers bridge unique, not just as a bridge but also as a place in its own right. Citizens embraced the bridge and the surrounding park as an important place for the neighbourhood; a place they are proud of. As such, it catalyses numerous new community events and sport activities. One example is the first edition of the ‘Utrecht Bridge Run’ that took place in May 2017, or a public breakfast during the official opening of the Dafne Schippers bridge for inhabitants of Oog in Al and Leidsche Rijn to meet. As Leidsche Rijn resident Perter Vernooij tells: “It really succeeds in bringing the two parts of the city together.” The bridge is therefore more than a work of infrastructure: it is a place to learn, to play and to exchange.

Simultaneously, the Dafne Schippers bridge goes beyond the local meeting point: internationally it has been embraced as a best practice of the Dutch approach to the seamless integration of cycling infrastructure into the urban fabric, while contributing to social cohesion. Municipalities, the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency and Dutch embassies worldwide use the project as a case study. In September 2017 the New York Times featured the Dafne Schippers bridge in an article praising the city of Utrecht’s successful approach to the promotion of cycling (New York Times, 06 Sept 2017: “If you build it, the Dutch Will Pedal”).

Photography: Leven op Daken

Photography: Leven op Daken

Photography: Jeroen Musch

Photography: Jeroen Musch

Photography: Jeroen Musch

Photography: Jeroen Musch

Photography: Jeroen Musch

Photography: Jeroen Musch

key: school, public park, bridge, mobility, sustainable mobility, urban development, landscape design
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