The Dafne Schippers Bridge over the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal in Utrecht has been opened to the public early in April. The team of Bureau B+B, NEXT Architects and Rudy Uytenhaak Architectenbureau designed a landmark bicycle and pedestrian suspension bridge.

A cohesive design

The Dafne Schippers Bridge connects Utrecht’s new district of Leidsche Rijn with the historic city centre. Leidsche Rijn is currently one of the most important development location to accommodate the city’s growth and is separated by the centre by the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal that cuts across the city. To make this new area attractive to present and future inhabitants, a fast and safe connection over the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal is needed. The City of Utrecht decided on its location: at the height of the Victor Hugo Park. At this point it is possible to draw one clear line between the centre and the new district. There were, however, some notable challenges: on the city-centre side, the bridge lands in the densely build neighbourhood of Oog in Al; and on the exact spot where two elementary schools were standing.

The design responds to these challenges by integrating the cycle and pedestrian bridge with a new school and the public park, forming one single cohesive design. This demanded intense cooperation between the architects, the bridge designer and the landscape architect. By approaching all the different elements within the project in an integral manner, the bridge’s design is able to simultaneously satisfy the different interests that are at play in this complex site:
1. The inhabitants of the neighbourhood Oog in Al, where the bridge lands on the roof of the school. The inhabitants of this densely build area want the green public space in their neighbourhood to be maintained and improved. In addition they want to ensure a safe traffic-situation
2. The cyclists, need a comfortable and fast route from Leidsche Rijn to the centre of Utrecht. To this end, the bicycle lane should not be too steep.
3. The city of Utrecht, wants to improve the infrastructural connection between the city centre and Leidsche Rijn, especially for cyclist, thereby contributing to the city’s sustainability ambitions.
4. The school, needs a safe environment to learn and to play
5. Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, needs to safeguard the shipping route across the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal. This is one of the main shipping arteries in the Netherlands connecting the port city of Amsterdam to the Rhine river.

The double land use with maximum space for greenery makes the Dafne Schippers Bridge unique, not just as a bridge but also as a space for the neighbourhood. When cyclists make their way from the center 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 path extra length to minimize the ramp’s steepness for its users. With an average inclination of 2,56%, a maximum inclination of 4,05%, an X-factor of 5,07 and a flat segment, the loop is a conformable bicycle trail leading to the bridge. On a daily basis, the Dafne Schippers Bridge will allow more than 7,000 cyclists to gain much time on their route between Leidsche Rijn and Utrecht’s city center.

Landscape integration

The Dafne Schippers bridge is cloaked in greenery. Green rooftops, green lawns and green trees merge the bridge and the school with its surroundings. One of the main goals was to keep the original park as big as possible. Luckily, we managed to spare most existing trees. Besides that, we added some flowering magnolias. The park is a continuous green space that carefully integrates all the new elements. The bowl-shaped area within the bicycle loop demanded extra attention. The loop can be accessed by an opening under the bridge near the schoolyard. Inside the bowl lies a sunny sport court. This makes the bowl a distinctive part of the entire complex. The shape of the school building creates a safe and enclosed playground for the children. The wide side of the school closes off the park from the canal. The school and the schoolyard are clearly oriented towards the park. Because the building is narrower on the east side under the bridge, this is the most natural place for the main entrance. Aligned with the street, it is a visible place to kiss and ride. The redesigned park functions as a green and vibrant public space, making the bridge an integrated part of the neighborhood.

Data

Landscape Architecture: Bureau B+B Urbanism and Landscape Architecture
Other design firms involved: NEXT architects, rudy uytenhaak + partners architecten (bridge and school building)
Project location: Victor Hugoplantsoen, Utrecht, The Netherlands
Design year: 2013-2016
Year Built: 2016-2017

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