Authors: Viktor Markelj udig, Peter Gabrijelčič udia
Investor: The city of Belgrade
Photographer: Ana Kostić
Construction year: 2008-2012
The construction of an inner urban expressway ring around Belgrade is one of the city’s biggest contemporary projects, and it is bound to be a significant generator of urban development for the capital city and the wider region. A ride or a walk along the new ‘city boulevard’ will open up new landscapes and new experiences of urban space. The most attractive element of the new ‘boulevard’ is the bridge across the Sava River, which was built on the basis of the solution that won first prize in the international architecture and construction competition in 2004. By building a new bridge, the city’s administration also wished to symbolically commemorate the period when it came into existence, because the history of Belgrade is also the history of its bridges. Every era has, in its own way, been recorded in the history of the city. Every new bridge has become recognised as one of the symbols of the city, completing the gallery of city icons. By seeking a solution by means of an international competition, Belgrade sought to change the practice of constructing large road bridges which are often designed as exclusively engineering solutions, neglecting both the environment and the pedestrians who also use them. They are nothing more than long, wide, monotonous asphalt platforms stretching across a river. Pedestrians feel lost and threatened on them.On one side, there is the depth of the river threatening them, and on the other, motor vehicles.From the eleven projects entered for the competition (of the 27 that started), the conceptual design of the Ponting company in Maribor was selected. The designers of the winning solution were the chief constructor engineer, Viktor Markelj, and architect Peter Gabrijelčič, who have worked together for over 25 years on multi-award-winning bridge structures which they designed as architecture for rivers. The competition solution for the new bridge over the Sava in Belgrade is a comprehensive synthesis of urban planning, construction and architectural design. Following their design, the bridge spans the Sava ‘in a leap’ by means of two wide arches abutting on the river banks and on Ada Ciganlija, the island in the middle. At the very promontory of Ada Ciganlija island, a 207 m high pylon was erected to enable two assymmetrical spans to cross the river by means of 80 steel backstay cables. The new bridge is 920 m long, with a span of 375 metres. The carriageway is 45 metres wide, with six lanes for road vehicles, two light rail railway tracks, and two pedestrian and cycling paths. This is the largest bridge surface in the world suspended by just one pylon.The bridge incorporates numerous superior characteristics and succesfully meets many technical challenges. With regard to the fact that constructing extremely large structures severly limits freedom of design, it is important to emphasise that the design of the bridge in Belgrade was not confined to what was strictly necessary. The tall pylon gives the impression of a sculpture in the cityscape – it indicates the location of Ada Ciganlija Island and draws motorists’ attention from some distance to the proximity of the River, so the pylon may also be regarded as a significant landmark. The spatial composition of passing across the bridge is clear and transparent: on solid, grassy, overgrown terrain, the bridge spans are smaller, and larger above the river. The pylon at Ada divides the bridge into two spatial sequences, into ‘here and there’, and thus seemingly shortens the trip across the bridge. The highly elevated construction creates an impression of space on the bridge, and at the same time defines the height of its smaller elements. In the proximity of the pylon, every element of the bridge, as well as the people and vehicles, acquire their spatial dimension. Slanting stay cables arrayed on two planes rise steeply towards the top of the pylon, creating a dynamic intertwining of two kinds of geometry. Within the ‘space’ of the bridge, the atmosphere of a ‘cathedral’ has been created.
The shape of the pylon results from a functional and constructional idea of the appearance of the bridge. The bridge is divided into three carriageways. The pylon transfixes the carriageway construction in such a way as to maintain its appearance and become the element linking the separate parts of the bridge into an integrated composition. It rises in the form of a slim, pointed cone anchoring the backstays. The bridge construction and its design as well as the construction of the pylon stem from both engineering and architectural aesthetics. The accent is on the pylon’s peak, which completes the ideal geometrical line of a slim cone, thus conferring on the bridge an accentuated symbolic power and identity.The pylon’s superstructure was implemented in the form of a light metal structure which when illuminated is a significant landmark in the city’s night life. Speaking of the perception of space, the pylon may be experienced in multiple ways: as an element of the environment, indicating the position of the river island, as a part of the new urban architecture, or as a part of the bridge architecture in a stricter, ambiental sense. In conceptual terms, it may be ranked among similar symbolic elements by which, in the course of history, we would mark significant spots or events in space: now, we can view it as an urban sculpture or a new city ‘cathedral’, which physically and symbolically connects the new and the old Belgrade.