Known colloquially as the “wobbly bridge” the Millennium Bridge began its’ life in 1996 as the winning design of a competition held by Southwark council and the Royal Institute of British Architects. The winners of the competition were Arup, Foster and Partners and Sir Anthony Caro who referred to their design a “blade of light.”
Construction on the bridge began in late 1998 and was completed at a cost of £18.2 Million (£2.2 Million over the intended budget). It was opened to the public on the 10th of June 2000 – which was actually two months later than originally intended. However, upon opening to the public, participants in a charity walk (on behalf of the organisation Save the Children) who were the first to use the new bridge reported a dramatic swaying motion when crossing the bridge. This swaying and wobbling was identified as “unexpected lateral vibration” or “resonant structural response” and gave the bridge the nickname it still holds today: the Wobbly Bridge.
+++Free Tours by Foot’s City of London Tour will walk the Millennium Bridge.+++
To explain the wobble of the bridge in layman’s terms, the vibrations caused by pedestrians crossing the bridge were beginning to make the bridge sway. As the bridge swayed, people who were crossing attempted to balance themselves by altering the way in which they walked. The masses of people attempting to stabilise themselves made the bridge wobble even MORE creating a cyclical process of wobble/corrective walking/wobble. This is not a unique phenomenon, nor is it the only time a bridge in London suffered from such an effect. However, as the bridge was already delayed in opening and over-budget it received much negative attention by the press, and by Londoners themselves who saw it as an aggravating and embarrassing situation, coming shortly after the ‘London Millennium Dome’ debacle – wherein a structure built for the millennium failed to draw positive public attention of recoup the money spent on building it.
Attempts were made to control the movement of the bridge, by limiting the number of people allowed on the bridge at any given time, but eventually it was decided the design of the bridge would need to be seriously amended. The Millennium Bridge was closed just two days after originally being open to the public. The bridge was retrofitted and reopened to the public on the 22nd of February 2002. Although no longer drastically swaying, the bridge is subject to harmonic resonance which means it does vibrate and occasionally move about. Because of this the bridge has maintained its nickname “The Wobbly Bridge” used by Londoners, and others from all over the world.
Today the Millennium Bridge spans the river directly between the Tate Modern Museum and St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is the only pedestrian only bridge in use in the City of London and is a popular tourist destination in its own right. The bridge was featured drastically in the sixth Harry Potter film where it was subject to an attack by the Death Eaters, which eventually caused the bridge to collapse.
A Top Tip: When crossing the Millennium Bridge – look DOWN. You will find herein some of the smallest and most overlooked street art in all of London. There is an artist who has made it a mission to quickly paint pictures on all the pieces of chewing gum that have been left onto the bridge, and walked on by the public. The tiny pictures run the entire length of the bridge and are overlooked by the hundreds of people that cross the bridge every day. Keep an eye out for bright colours and alien figures. You may also come across the artist himself who lies down on the bridge to paint, then hurriedly leaves before he can be accosted by the police – as what he is doing is legally considered vandalism!
Written by Margaret Stockton