The Gauja National Park Footbridge competition is sourcing designs for a footbridge to serve as a symbolic entrance to the park in honor of its 45th anniversary. As the footbridge would be suspended over a road, it must be high enough for trucks and buses to pass underneath it. It must also had to be capable of bearing the weight of high volumes of pedestrian foot traffic, and should feature welcome and goodbye signage as well as park information stand.
Participants are tasked with thinking about the buildability of their designs, and ensuring that they correspond with the context of the national park and being welcoming to visitors, while at the same time displaying innovation and the potential to become an internationally recognized landmark.
The project scenario was astonishing and had the potential to become a complete expression of a renewed approach to architectural design and construction.
The project led us beyond the utilitarian definition of a single optimal object as it asked to take care of the surrounding space as well. Hence we proliferated footbridge pattern over the landscape finding new opportunities for additional services that will make the location a unique place for people to visit and stay.
The structurally sound, celebrative footbridge, consisting of two main load-bearing wooden arches (the solid parts on footbridge sides) completed by a secondary steel perforated skin serving as antiskid flooring and the vertical elements with integrated lighting (designed as a protection for people from the strong winds from the south), together with the multipurpose landscape will become a catalyst for new urban dynamics with an architectural language that is intimately linked to the morphological nature of the site and expression of an higher design intelligence borrowed from Nature.
Finally, the bottom-up design strategy led us to develop an integrated infrastructure that becomes the new door for the Gauja National Park while facilitating the connection between the car park, the Church, the Sigulda cable car station, bus stops and a large number of surrounding walk routes, increasing the attractiveness and services offered by the area.
We aimed to study the project scenario as a high-potential node of Sigulda urban system, with respect to which the new architecture will be more than an isolated act.
Unfolding a systemic approach, we investigated the real behavior of people across the area through the analysis of their shared GPS tracking data.
This analysis revealed the existence of numerous behaviors and informal paths that have captured our attention suggesting criticalities and design opportunities to make the new architecture an activator of new urban, social and economic dynamics.
From this analysis we collected the basic operative data to drive an articulated occupation of space, as to increase the attractiveness and services offered by the area being kind to the environment and people.
Etienne-Jules Marey was an inventor who investigated form as a continuous flow in space and time. His methods of recording movement have revolutionized our way of visualizing time and movement. Sharing Marey’s conception of form, our design-research borrowed its techniques to thoroughly investigate the hopping sequence of the most evoluted frogs (the Rhinella) capable of landing on all four legs.
We chose the frog because it is one of the animals capable of jumping longer with respect to its size and because its starting and landing position resembles the structural and construction needs of a bridge. We have therefore developed a design strategy that would allow us to exploit the organic behaviour of the movement of the parts of frog body during the jump, refined selectively over millions of years, to give our bridge characteristics such that the form is not just an epidermal or stylistic factor but a manifestation of a material system of superior intelligence.
The research was thus aimed at capturing the primary aspects of the frog’s jump, recording frame by frame the variations in the position of the joints. Then we elaborated a digital parametric system to simulate the actual behavior. Through computation we could digitally calculate an ideal hopping realized on the project scenario according to the strategic direction identified by the operational study on cartography (board 1).
Kerto LVL is a laminated veneer lumber product used in all types of construction projects. Already starting from reduced thickness it is incredibly strong; this aspect, together with the easy workability with digital procedures, made it the optimal choice for our purposes. Thus, the whole project was aimed at creating a design that would take maximum advantage of the material itself from the very beginning.
One challenge of timber structures is always how to protect them against the elements. Learning form the most recent innovation in timber construction, Kerto panels will be sprayed with a 2mm layer of two components polyurethane. This solution will provide a UV-protective, waterproof, vapor-permeable coating that protects the timber form water seepage and drying-out in the sun.
The PU protection ensures that the timber is an internal structure while it increases the stiffness of the wood by more than one quarter, while creep deformation is halved.
Finally the material allows for a light weight structure that ensures a lower maintenance cost than for a steel solution.
Despite its tectonic richness, the construction of the footbridge will be more cost-effective than traditional solutions for a variety of reasons. First of all, differentiated and redundant structural systems help to save up to 60% of the total weight; therefore lightness is an instrument to be cost-effective and low-impact on the environment along the entire life of a new architecture starting from its production. Second, footbridge main structural load bearing parts, the wooden side arches, are made of self-supporting volumetric component which building triangular KERTO parts will be efficiently produced via robotic fabrication. The digital manufacturing process will help reducing waste material and eliminating construction errors saving time and money.