Waterway statues: The Fan Bridge – London

Walk across an unfurling fern at Paddington Basin, then follow a sculpture trail through the Lea Valley

Maureen Barlin


In Paddington Basin, West London, you can find a perfect example of function transformed into a thing of beauty. The Fan Bridge, which spans the Grand Union Canal in Merchant Square, is a moving footbridge that also happens to be a stunning work of modern art.

Engineered by Knights Architects and AKT II in 2014, the Fan Bridge rises and falls like the opening and closing of a traditional Japanese hand-held fan. It consists of five steel beams that splay out and close up using hydraulic jacks. Each of the steel beams was made in North Yorkshire. The counterweight fins, which would be the handle part of the fan, are a beautiful visual sculpture in itself when the bridge is lowered.

Another footbridge-cum-kinetic sculpture in Merchant Square is the Rolling Bridge, which curls up into an octagon when it rises to allow boats through. It really is hypnotic to watch, like a fern slowly furling and unfurling – an ingenious feat of engineering that earned it the British Structural Steel Design Award in 2005.

You can watch both bridges open at midday every Wednesday and Friday, and at 2pm every Saturday. The whole process takes just under 10 minutes, so arrive early, find somewhere to sit and satisfy your inner ‘pontist’. If you can’t see the bridges in the flesh, there are some mesmerising sped-up clips you can watch on YouTube.

Continue your tour of sculptures on the waterways with a visit to The Line in the Lea Valley – London’s first dedicated modern and contemporary art walk. This series of three short walks, totalling 4.6 miles, runs between the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and The O2, following the line of the Meridian while exploring the little-known parts of the River Lea.

The route is peppered with unexpected artworks. ‘Quantum Cloud’ is a monumental sculpture by British artist Antony Gormley made from 325 extended tetrahedral pieces. Abigail Fallis’s ‘DNA DL90’ consists of 22 shopping trolleys in the shape of a double helix – a bizarre and arresting sight! While Damien Hirst’s ‘Sensation’, an anatomical model of 3mm piece of human skin, investigates the complex relationships between art and science. Along the way, you can call in on characterful cafes, explore industrial relics and marvel at a wealth of innovative architecture.

Find out more about these magnificent footbridges in Paddington Basin here.

Find out more about The Line and plan your day on the website.