Durham University first approached Ove Arup in 1961 with the brief to build a bridge across the Wear. It would connect the nineteenth century University buildings on the Cathedral peninsula, to the expanding campus and proposed new Student’s Union Building (Dunelm House) south of the river.
The limited budget of £35000 was small, even to build a short bridge at the bottom of the valley. However, at the initial briefing Ove suggested immediately that they use the height to their advantage, having instead a high level bridge. The problems posed by a large span were immediately apparent and complicated further by the dramatic topography and access to the valley at this point.
From the outset, the method of construction was to determine the design. Due to the height of the bridge deck above the valley floor and the necessity to keep the river open for boating throughout the construction, a twin-span method was realised. It was to be constructed in two identical halves; each supported on a slender ‘V’ shaped truss. On completion the sections were turned through 90 degrees, manually, using winches pulling on a wooden yoke. The whole operation took around twenty minutes for each side, and once in place, they were locked together some 17m above the valley bottom with a simple bronze expansion joint.
Ove was known to be particularly fond of the Kingsgate bridge and in 1988 his ashes where scattered from the bridge. A plaque commemorating his work sits alongside the Kingsgate bridge and Dunelm House.
Image 1 copyright of Alexander Duncan
Images 2 copyright of Andrew Bowden and licenced under the Creative Commons
Image 3 – Bronze movement joint
Image 4 – Bridge Elevation
Image 5 – Bridge modular
Image 3-6 copyight of authors