Gateshead Millennium Bridge – Winking Eye Bridge

Since the middle ages, many bridges have been built across the River Tyne in England. Gateshead Millennium Bridge is the most distinguished landmark among them. It was the first tilting bridge ever constructed in the world.

Linking Newcastle and Gateshead, this unique bridge is mainly used by pedestrians and cyclists. Due to its shape and tilting mechanism, Gateshead Millennium Bridge is also known as the “Winking Eye Bridge” or “Blinking Eye Bridge”.

Gateshead Millennium Bridge
Fig 1: Gateshead Millennium Bridge

Gateshead Millennium Bridge has become a tourist attraction for its awe-inspiring engineering and architecture. Each year, a large number of people from all over the world visit there for sightseeing.

Design, Architecture, and Construction

The conception of Gateshead Millennium Bridge is quite interesting. In 1996, Gateshead Council held a design competition for designing a bridge that could connect Gateshead to Newcastle. Out of 150 entries by different structural and architectural firms, only six were shortlisted. After voting by Gateshead residents, WilkinsonEyre (Architectural Firm) alongside Gafford and Partners (Engineering Firm) won the prize. The final design was then submitted in July 1997 to secure funding.

The bridge’s construction started in 1998. VolkerStevin was appointed as the main contractor for the project. VolkerStevin had technical expertise in the construction of unique and complex structures. They further selected 12 subcontractors for different works such as piling, river work, lighting, control systems, and metal work.

Gateshead Millennium Bridge at night
Fig 2: Gateshead Millennium Bridge at night

A well-known Danish consulting engineering group Ramboll provided consultancy services throughout the construction. They were responsible for site supervision, and contract management, as well as for coordinating the mechanical, electrical, and hydraulic works. The structural design was provided by Gifford which is a subsidiary company of the same Ramboll group.

Watson Steel prefabricated the bridge as a specialist contractor whereas Kvaerner Markham designed the hydraulic system as a subcontractor. The abrasive blasting and painting of prefabricated sections were done in Hadrian’s yard, 4 miles away from the bridge’s location. The whole structure was assembled by first welding together nine arch sections and deck sections and then attaching the cables to the deck and the arch.

On 20th November 2000, the fully assembled bridge was lifted into place in one piece by Asian Hercules II which is one of the world’s largest floating cranes. Once the bridge was in place, the hydraulic systems, handrails, and seating were then installed. The transportation and placing of the bridge took just one day and it attracted a large crowd to watch the spectacle.

Gateshead Millennium Bridge lifting aerial view
Fig 3: Gateshead Millennium Bridge lifting aerial view

Gateshead Council announced that they’ll open the bridge in September 2000. However, the construction got delayed. On 28th June 2001, the bridge was tilted for the first time in front of 36,000 spectators. It was finally opened to the public on 17th September 2001. The bridge was officially inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth II on 7th May 2002.

The total construction cost of Gateshead Millennium Bridge was £22 million. The project was funded by Millennium Commission, Gateshead Council, English Partnerships, ERDF, and East Gateshead Single Regeneration Budget.

Use and Purpose of the Bridge

As mentioned earlier, Gateshead Millennium Bridge is built to provide a link for pedestrians and cyclists between the Gateshead arts quarter on the south bank and the newly revived Newcastle quayside area on the north bank of River Tyne.

The total length of the bridge deck is 126 meters and its width is 8 meters. It has a 5 meter wide footway for pedestrians and a 2.5 to 3 meters wide cantilever cycleway.

Fig 4: The Millennium Bridge to the St Paul’s Cathedral in Twilight with Moving People

Small river craft can sail below the bridge all the time. Whereas for larger craft, the cable-stayed double-arched structure rotates on large bearings through an angle of 40 degrees, giving a 25 meters high navigational clearance. This upwards tilting of the pedestrian side allows the river traffic to pass underneath the bridge.

Structural System of the Bridge

In terms of structural engineering, Gateshead Millennium Bridge is simply an inclined 2-pin arch. It’s not that simple though. There’re a lot of considerations involved in the structural system of the bridge.

Gateshead Millennium Bridge - The Main Arch
Fig 5: Gateshead Millennium Bridge – The Main Arch

The main design constraints for the bridge to fulfill were: there must be at least 4.5 meters level above the river when the bridge is closed, the deck must have a slope of 1:20 to allow disabled access, and it should be as light as possible to allow easy opening and closing.

Gateshead Millennium Bridge Tilted
Fig 6: Gateshead Millennium Bridge Tilted

The main structure is almost completely constructed from steel while concrete is used in the pier construction. The end supports are a feat of structural engineering. The challenge was that the bridge couldn’t rely on the quayside for foundation, therefore the abutments were cast in-situ within the channel of the river itself. This involved a detailed geological survey and resulted in the construction of cofferdams as well as extensive piling for the substructure. For each support, 20 meters deep piles of 1.5 meters in diameter were bored to tackle the complex ground conditions.

End Supports of the gateshead millennium bridge
Fig 7: End Supports of the bridge

The main arch is kite-shaped in section with a double size at the apex than its base. The steel plates used for fabrication are 35 mm thick with internal stiffeners. 18 galvanized steel cables are anchored into the arch that supports the deck. The curvature provides an additional 30% length to the deck. This maintains the desired ramp gradient and the clearance of 4.5 meters above river level.

The deck of the bridge consists of a continuous box section with lateral steel beams to cantilever the cycleway. The cycleway sits and the footway sits at different levels. They’re separated by a metal hedge.

Fig 8: LUSAS model showing bridge lifting assembly

The structure was modeled in a Finite Element Analysis software known as LUSAS. In the software, 3D elements were used to model the bridge and analyze it for wind, temperature, buckling forces, dead load, and live load. LUSAS was also used to carry out the dynamic analysis of the opening and closing sequence of the bridge.

Interesting Facts about the Bridge

  • It takes only 4.5 minutes for the 6 hydraulic rams to open the bridge to a full 40-degree angle.
  • Gateshead Millennium Bridge is the twentieth tallest structure in Newcastle city.
  • Due to its regional significance, Gateshead Millennium Bridge is opened for different major events such as The Boat Race of the North and the Cutty Sark Tall Ships’ Race.
  • The bridge was pictured on a pound coin by the Royal Mint in 2007.
Gateshead Millennium Bridge on a pound coin
Fig 9: Gateshead Millennium Bridge on a pound coin
  • It has been featured on TV several times including the BBC Drama 55 Degrees North and the 2005 British movie Goal.
  • The bridge has so far won a total of 25 awards including the Stirling Prize, RIBA Award, IStructE Supreme Award, and Outstanding Structure Award.
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