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Competition: Upper Orwell Crossings, Suffolk

The RIBA’s competitions unit has launched a design competition for a pair of waterfront bridges in Ipswich, UK (Deadline: 1 September)

Planned to start on site in 2020, the Upper Orwell Crossings Project will create two new road crossings in Ipswich Docks and refurbish an existing swing bridge serving Suffolk town’s wet dock and marina.

Backed by Suffolk County Council, the ambitious project aims to ease road congestion in the East Anglian city and improve journey times for vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians.



Source: Image by John Fielding

Ipswich Docks

The infrastructure upgrade – which featured in former ex-chancellor George Osborne’s 2016 Budget – is also expected to create a new focal point for regeneration in Ipswich’s waterfront area by opening up the man-made island between the wet dock and river for development.

Guy McGregor, Suffolk County Council’s member with special responsibility for working with outside bodies, commented: ‘We want to open up the design competition to find the most suitable architectural expert team to work with Suffolk County Council in the crucial design of this major project for the county town of Ipswich and Suffolk.

‘We are getting some really positive feedback through our current consultation on this project and we look forward to working with the winning architectural team to realise a design that fits with Ipswich ambitions and continued success in the future.’

Ipswich Dock has been a centre of maritime trade since the eighth century. The wet dock, located on a bend in the river Orwell, and was built in 1842 and now features a marina.



Upper Orwell Crossings

Nearby waterfront landmarks include John Lyall Architects’ The Mill completed in 2009, which is the tallest tower in the region. The Grade I-listed Willis Building – one of Norman Foster’s earliest works completed in 1975 – is also a short distance away.

The project will deliver a new lifting crossing for vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists over the deep water navigation channel known as the ‘Upper Orwell Viaduct’.

A similar bridge – to be named the ‘Enterprise Way Crossing’ – will also be created, connecting the west bank of the river Orwell and with the island regeneration site.

The existing Prince Philip Lock Crossing – a half-swing bridge only open to pedestrians and cyclists – will furthermore be refurbished.

UK and international architects with experience of delivering high-quality bridge structures and major infrastructure projects while working within a multi-disciplinary team are encouraged to apply.

Up to five shortlisted teams will receive £10,000 (+VAT) each to develop compliant tenders for the competition’s design phase and participate in a clarification interview.

The winning team will work alongside structural and civil engineers WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff to develop the project up to RIBA Stage 3.

Early contractor involvement is planned to assist the development of designs with the architect expected to be novated to the contractor as part of a design and build contract in the later stages.

How to apply


The deadline for applications is 5pm on 1 September.

Contact details

RIBA Competitions
No 1 Aire Street

Tel: +44 (0)113 203 1490

Visit the RIBA Competitions website for more information

Lower Hatea River Crossing case study: Q&A with Sam White

The project architect at Knight Architects discusses lessons learned designing a new road crossing in Whangarei, New Zealand

Knight Architects

Knight Architects

Sam White

How did your project create a new functional and aesthetic road crossing for Whangarei?

The 265m moveable bridge succeeds on multiple levels. As a key piece of local infrastructure, it works from a transport perspective for every user whether they’re driving, walking or cycling over it, or sailing underneath it. The opening mechanism is based on a traditional rolling bascule bridge, where the rolling motion moves the bascule span away from the navigation channel as it rises, quickly offering a clear channel to shipping. The lifting span comprises two steel ‘J beams’ shaped to give a distinctive elevation that speaks of its moving action, and their upper parts provide counterweight that reduces the energy required to raise and lower the bridge. Of equal importance, the structure reflects Whangarei’s strong historical and cultural connection to the sea and Maori fishing tradition became a major influence on the design, which can be seen in the use of the stylised ceremonial fish hook on the two J beams. Function and form, engineering and architecture, are perfectly integrated and completely indivisible in this design.

New Zealand

New Zealand

Source: Image by Patrick Reynolds

Lower Hatea River Crossing by Knight Architects

What considerations are important when designing new bridges intended to unleash regeneration in former industrial waterfront areas?

As with the Lower Hatea Crossing, looking at the history of the site is important. Contextual regeneration projects must strive to reference and build upon the character the site’s prior uses. With thorough site analysis and thoughtful design, bridges can serve to enhance the ‘sense of place’ and highlight the distinctiveness of the area.

How would you set about designing a new road crossing for the river Orwell?

Good bridge design improves people’s lives as it facilitates physical connections and economic activity. But it must also enhance the emotional bonds with a place which underpin a sense of community. The design of any new crossing must strive to achieve more than simply a new connection; it must aim to strengthen identity and add value.

New Zealand

New Zealand

Source: Image by Patrick Reynolds

Lower Hatea River Crossing by Knight Architects