Warburton trail pedestrian bridge

2006 - 2011
Lilydale, Victoria, Australia

Coming upon a bridge while out walking or riding is always an event. Bridges are almost always interesting just because they’re there. We tend to pause for a moment and draw breath, re survey the route, sometimes take a break, maybe have a sit for a minute or a drink, sometimes check our map - and then saddle up and keep going. If the bridge is accidental – the trunk of a fallen tree, some rocks that happen to be in the right spot or even low tide for example– we count our blessings and usually proceed with added caution, focussing on the job at hand. If the bridge is designed then our expectations can vary. Regardless of what it looks like we expect a designed bridge to get us across the road or the river safely, with minimal risk, no matter what the conditions. This sense of security enables us to see and do other things – enjoy the view from the bridge, admire the ingenuity of the designer or the beauty of the engineering or the sensitivity of the choice of materials or the depth of the gorge which it spans, and so on. For me, coming across a beautifully designed bridge is inevitably confronting. I often find myself marvelling at the human spirit – that we don’t let a small thing like San Francisco Bay get in the way and that the Golden Gate Bridge is our answer to the problem is just wonderful. Well done all of us! I love the clarity of a well considered solution. Clarity is a difficult thing to achieve in architecture and yet somehow designing a bridge keeps us honest and forces us to be accountable for every nut and bolt. I like that. There’s no room for clever decoration or redundant structures. No time! A bridge is the encapsulation of the laws of mathematics inherent in Nature and forced upon us by the fact of gravity so that anything more than the most pure response is…mere fashion in the guise of design. And we can’t have that.

In a way the comprehension of the Warburton trail bridge begins and ends at the stations. The structure over Maroondah highway is merely part of the journey and the journey is a psychological one to begin with because we make a conscious decision to travel on the trail – the trail is not a through way and using the bridge is not therefore simply an incidental event but one which is part of a pre-determined idea. This heightens our expectation as the bridge becomes an event in the journey along the trail. It is therefore reasonable to propose that any clues as to the impending discovery of the bridge while travelling the trail are part of the event of the bridge itself and therefore serve to heighten the anticipation of coming upon the bridge. We proposed as part of our Stage 1 design that small landscape elements – hitching rails, stiles, drinking troughs, maps and signs, seats and so on be placed strategically along the trail as clues to the inevitable discovery of the bridge. These elements would all be designed in a way that was coherent with the bridge itself and the combination of these elements and the bridge structure itself constitute our design response.

The bridge forms a gateway over the Maroondah Highway. Both the western and eastern approaches are from below and therefore even a humble structure will appear quite grand to vehicular traffic. Historically gates (arches, archways, triumphal arches see Marble Arch, Arc de Triomphe, Napoleon’s gate, Berlin gate etc. are constructed to mark points of arrival or departure from a significant place. As Lilydale is an entry point to the Yarra Valley the proposed bridge acts as a ‘gateway’ to this region. The Warburton Rail Trail is an integral element in the local and regional history and the bridge most importantly reconnects the Warburton Rail Trail over the Maroondah Highway.