Rolling Bridge

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Rolling Bridge

In this shot from Aug. 1, 2006, the rolling bridge looks rather ho-hum, but when a boat needs to pass through the canal, it arches up and curls into a spectacular 3-D octagon.

View Pictures/UIG via Getty Images

Building big isn't the only way for engineers to make an impression. The Rolling Bridge, which allows pedestrians to walk over the Grand Union Canal in London, spans just 39 feet (11.8 meters). But its innovative design more than makes up for its diminutive stature. The bridge consists of eight timber-and-steel sections hinged together so that, fully extended, it lies flat. Then, under action of hydraulic pistons, the sections can lift and pivot to allow the entire structure to curl upon itself, much like a pill bug rolling into a ball. While boats pass through the unobstructed canal, the bridge sits on the bank like a piece of sculpture.

The Rolling Bridge is the brainchild of Thomas Heatherwick, who has designed other architectural oddities, such as the giant cauldron that burned during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games in London and the B of the Bang starburst sculpture. In 2008, the city of Manchester asked Heatherwick to take down B of the Bang because it kept shedding spikes. So far, the Rolling Bridge has presented no such dangers. In fact, in 2005, it received a Structural Steel Design Award, with the judges noting that the bridge was a "joyful addition to the [Paddington Basin] development area that has all the appearance of a Leonardo sketch when in the 'rolled' position."

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