I accept it might not look particularly attractive, or even create a fleeting impression of attractiveness. You might think it looks unarguably dull, or at the very least utterly unexceptional. I accept it’s probably not the sort of place you’d want to linger, even when – as here – the sun is bathing everything in a flattering, early autumnal glow.
But for all this, the passenger footbridge at Kew Gardens is rather special.
The more you linger, the more curious it looks – and feels. It’s possible to sense something a bit alien, a bit foreign about this bridge. The shape, the colour, the materials… none bear traces or motifs of homegrown architecture. There is nothing familiar in the structure, no parochial reference points in the design. There is no tang of London oozing from the brickwork.
What’s it doing here? And in Kew Gardens, of all places?
I mean, look at it:
Precisely why it is so unusual is precisely why it is so fascinating.
A nearby plaque explains all. The bridge was opened in 1912 and is a hugely rare and very early example of one made from reinforced concrete, using a technique pioneered by the French engineer François Hennebique. That feeling of other-worldliness starts to make sense.
Moreover, it was deliberately designed (I’m not sure who by) with those unusual high walls and those odd projections out of its sides in order to protect its users from smoke and dirt coming from passing steam engines. How thoughtful – and how daringly continental. There can’t have been many people native to Edwardian Britain believing that passengers ought to take precedence over machinery.
The whole thing was done up in 2004 thanks to English Heritage, the Kew Society and numerous other benefactors, including every person who’s ever played the National Lottery (that’s how the heritage fund works, isn’t it?)
Heaven knows what it looked like before its makeover – less attractive certainly, but also probably less intriguing. Even the furnishings seem to have scrubbed up well:
Did I mention the views are pretty damn special as well?