One of the things that all visitors in Prague end up doing, be that intentionally or not, is crossing Charles bridge; the bridge not only connects the historic centre with Prague Castle, the city’s most famous attraction, but is also a landmark in its own right. Built in the 14th century and lined with 30 Baroque statues, up until 1841 the medieval stone arch structure was the only bridge to cross the Vltava river. Numerous bridges have since been constructed as befitting the city’s transformation into a sprawling metropolis, with the most recent one, Štvanice footbridge, inaugurated this year.
Designed by Czech architectural practices Bridge Structures and Blank architekti, the bridge connects two dynamically developing Prague districts of Karlín and Holešovice, via Štvanice island wherefrom it takes its name. Minimalist in design, and its lightweight structure and slender form being a far cry from the hefty presence and grandiose ornamentation of Charles bridge, it is just as thrilling to cross.
Supported by embankment abutments and a series of piers, the bridge’s gently curved footprint responds to the local topography while its modest height ensures that pedestrians and cyclists enjoy views of the city and river. On the Holešovice side, where the riverbank is lower in elevation and thus prone to flooding, the end span is designed to be vertically movable with the help of a hydraulic piston mechanism.
Part of the bridge’s allure is its white colour; made from ultra-high performance fibre reinforced concrete (UHPFRC) in 57 prefabricated sections, it appears as though it has been crafted from shiny white marble. In conjunction with its slender form and monolithic volume, the latter courtesy of solid parapets, the footbridge is imbued with a sculptural quality. An ornamental bronze handrail by the sculptor Aleš Hvízdal with integrated lighting and figural animal motifs at the ends further underlines the structure’s sculptural sensibility as does Jan Hendrych’s The River figural sculpture that marks the ramp to Štvanice island.