Inspired by a Japanese folding fan, Merchant Square Footbridge in Paddington, London, gracefully opens above a historical canal at least once a week to allow small boats to pass. It was completed last year, and its unique design is a 2015 finalist for a prestigious award from the Institution of Structural Engineers. The organization annually honors creativity and technical advancement in projects throughout the world.

In an engineering first, the bridge's architects designed the slats of the fabricated steel span into a cascade of cantilevers. Each of the five beams has a dedicated concrete counterweight and pivot mechanism; hydraulic cylinders below the pivots, combined with the counterweights, enable them to lift in sequence with minimal effort. When opened, the tallest beam extends like the top rib of a hand fan to nearly vertical, and the lowest rises 2.5 meters above the canal—high enough for small craft to pass underneath. “The fingers can rise and fall at different speeds and to different inclinations—all very innovative,” says Ian Firth, one of the judges of the awards, which will be announced this month.

A simpler structure could have sufficed to provide pedestrian passage across the water. This bridge, however, stands as a work of art, Firth adds, combining form and function in one dazzling display.

Structural Designers

Knight Architects and AKT II


20 meters


3 meters

Raise/Lower Duration

3 minutes

Steepest Angle When Open

80 degrees