Derry’s new Peace Bridge will help transform the city centre culturally and economically, says one of the North’s leading architects.
Derry man Michael Hegarty, Director of Place - Northern Ireland’s Architecture and Built Environment Centre in Beflast - says the new structure will fuel a “vibrant cultural scene and boost the economy” in the heart of Derry.
“A pedestrian bridge will breath life and help create a new look and vibrant city centre. The timing of it is perfect as it will be used for all kinds of activities in the run up to the 2013 City of Culture.”
Ahead of the long awaited official opening of the £14m bridge on June 25, Mr Hegarty said the pedestrian and cycle bridge will allow Derry city centre to avail of the benefits similar to those enjoyed by cities such as Dublin, London and Prague.
“People from the Derry area will have visited places such as Dublin, Prague, Paris, London and Venice and will have experienced pedestrian bridges. A good example is the Ha’penny Bridge, the oldest bridge in Dublin, which opened up the Temple Bar area and many other routes to the city centre.”
He further highlighted the cultural, social and economic importance of foot bridges across Europe, including the 600 year-old Charles Bridge in Prague, the Bridge of Sighs in Venice and the famous Ponte Vecchio in Florence.
He added: “In London the Millennium bridge opened up the cultural quarter at the South Bank, linking it up with places like Covent Garden and St Paul’s Cathedral and generating other activities in the area such as coffee shops to help boost the economy and green spaces for kids to play in.
Mr Hegarty believes that Derry’s Peace Bridge can have similar impact. “It will lead to the city centre becoming a place where people want to come and enjoy - with its improved green spaces, economy and improved quality of life generally - for example people working in the city centre will have the opportunity to use spaces like St Columb’s Park for walking during their lunch breaks.
“The bridge will effectively twin the Limavady Road area with the Shipquay Street with the journey being just a matter of minutes on foot.”
Mr Hegarty added that although the new bridge will be vitally important to the city, further links across the river will be equally important for the future development of the city.
“A pedestrian bridge is more important to the city centre right now than another road bridge because pedestrians will stop for coffee, go shopping and bring more life into the city centre. But Derry has been bereft of bridges for far too long. Craigavon replaced the old Carlisle Bridge while the Foyle Bridge was more or less a ring road to bypass the city - we could probably do with a couple more road bridges.
“The city needs to be linked together more, perhaps with road bridges between Duke Street and the Visitor and Convention Bureau and another from Newbuildings to Letterkenny Road to link up with the continuation of the Skeoge Link Road on the city side and the new A5 on the Waterside. They would have a strategic importance on a regional and a national level but the new pedestrian bridge will be a real boost to the city centre.”
Michael Hegarty is an architect, urban designer and founder of Hegarty Architects, Derry. He is also Director of PLACE, Northern Ireland’s Architecture and Built Environment Centre; Member of the UK Steering group for the Venice International Architecture Biennale; Member of the Academy of Urbanism and an Expert Advisor to MAG.
PLACE (Planning, Landscape, Architecture, Community and Environment) works across Northern Ireland with people of all ages to ensure good design in new developments and to protect heritage. The organisation’s projects span the education sector from primary to third level, partnering teachers with architects and bringing students of different backgrounds together to develop imaginative design responses to challenging problems.
One of the organisations key projects is the former Andersonstown Barracks, an oppressive presence at the junction of the Falls and the Glen Road in West Belfast. Following the demolition of the building and several failed attempts to regenerate the site, PLACE was asked by the Department for Social Development to join the West Belfast Partnership Board to run a programme of public consultation and participation.
After many months of discussions and workshops with a wide range groups in the local community, PLACE prepared a design brief for the site, and in November 2010, a competition for the scheme was launched.
The competition is to be judged by PLACE patron and the world renowned architect behind the designs for the redevelopment of New York’s Ground Zero, Daniel Libeskind.