Moveable Bridges: 10 of the World’s Most Fascinating

moveable bridges
The Kuala Terengganu Bridge in Malaysia was inspired by London’s iconic Tower Bridge. (Mosafir Photography)

The World’s Moveable Bridges Combine Function and Design

By Dana Armstrong

For many of us, bridges are simply a way to get from point A to point B. But for the world’s most ambitious architects and engineers, moveable bridges provide a playground of innovative possibilities.

The classic medieval drawbridge pales in comparison to its modern, moveable rivals. All around the world, you can find bridges that respond to environmental stressors or provide safe pathways for foot, car, and boat traffic alike.

Friedrich Bayer Bridge – Sao Paulo, Brazil

Water lilies inspired Loeb Capote Architects, the masterminds behind the Friedrich Bayer Bridge. For a structure that looks like it came out of a modern Monet painting, its location may surprise you. The bridge is in south-west Sao Paulo near the connection of the Guarapiranga and Jurubatuba Rivers.

The two steel, circular platforms are covered in vegetation and spin to allow boats to pass through. When the pathways connect, pedestrians and cyclists can traverse the river and access Bayer pharmaceutical company’s Brazilian headquarters on one of the sides.

Five Circles Bridge – Copenhagen, Denmark

Cirkelbroen
Pedestrians and cyclists enjoy the convenience of the Five Circles Bridge as it leads directly to the National Library.

In 2015, Danish-Icelandic artist, Olafur Eliasson, decided to reach out of his sculptural comfort zone and try bridge design. The result was a collaboration with architect and friend Sebastian Behmann. Copenhagen’s Five Circles Bridge, or “Cirkelbroen” as known in Danish, was born.

The interlocking, five circle platform design is supported by steel masts, giving it the appearance of docked sailboats. And speaking of boats, the bridge is able to open to allow the passage of waterway traffic in just 20 seconds. The bridge is placed directly in front of the National Library, making it a convenient route for locals.

Kuala Terengganu Drawbridge – Terengganu, Malaysia

Kuala Terengganu Drawbridge 2 Fikku fiq
Tourists can visit the observation decks at the top of Kuala Terengganu Bridge for an alternative view of the city.

Inspired by one of the world’s most iconic moveable bridges, London’s Tower Bridge, the Kuala Terengganu Bridge is Malaysia’s (and even southeast Asia’s) first drawbridge. The construction was completed in 2019 and connects Muara North and Muara South for easy access to the Sultan Mahmud Airport.

The bridge’s storybook-like towers soar 106 meters above sea level, and you can enjoy the views and dine in the skybridges in between the towers. The leaves of the bascule fold up to allow ships to pass by and fold down to aid the flow of traffic around the city.

Vizcaya Bridge Biscay, Spain

Vizcaya Bridge Javier Mediavilla Ezquibela
The gondola on Vizcaya Bridge can carry up to six cars and 200 passengers across the river at once.

There are not many people who can boast that their creations are UNESCO world heritage sites, and Basque architect Alberto de Palacio is one of these people. In fact, the Vizcaya Bridge is the only work of “Industrial Heritage” recognized by UNESCO.

Palacio completed his unique, hanging bridge in 1893, and it is still used today to carry both people and cars across the Nervion River. Steel cables suspend a gondola that will take you in between the towns of Getxo and Portugalete, Spain. But pedestrians can also use the walkway at the top of the bridge to cross.

Yumemai Ohashi Bridge – Osaka, Japan

Yumemai Ohashi Bridge ignis
Environmental adaptability is a major design feature of the Yumemai Ohashi Bridge.

The Yumemai Ohashi Bridge serves a perfect example of durability, functionality, and form. This floating, swinging arch bridge connects the islands of Yumeshima and Maishima. Two giant steel pontoons support the structure and a tug boat swings the bridge across the Port of Osaka’s waterway.

The bridge’s innovative floating design is meant to hold up against the movements of Japan’s earthquakes and typhoon-force winds and waves. The bridge’s buoyancy in the water also allows it to adapt to the heavier loads of traffic that may pass by.

Slauerhoffbrug – Leeuwarden, Netherlands

Slauerhoffbrug
The Slauerhoffbrug raises a portion of the road into the sky.

The Netherland’s Slauerhoffbrug, or “Flying Drawbridge,” is definitely one of the world’s most unique bridge designs. Instead of laying down, swinging away, or retracting part of a bridge, the Slauerhoffbrug uses a massive pylon to automatically lift a portion of the road into the sky. Hydraulic cylinders hoist and lower the road segment ten times a day.

The design is the work of Van Driel Mechatronica, and the yellow and blue color of the pylon pays homage to the town of Leeuwarden’s flag.

The UK’s Bridges

If Pittsburgh, USA is known as the “City of Bridges,” the United Kingdom might as well be known as the “Country of Moveable Bridges.”

Rolling Bridge – London, England

The Rolling Bridge by Heatherwick Loz Pycock
The Rolling Bridge is one of London’s smallest moveable bridges.

In London, Thomas Heatherwick designed a Rolling Bridge that resembles a curling and unfurling tentacle. This relatively compact 39-foot structure provides a pathway for pedestrians to stroll along the banks of Paddington Basin. When fully retracted, it condenses into an octagon.

Gateshead Millennium Bridge – Gateshead, England

Gateshead Millennium Bridge
The Gateshead Millennium Bridge tilts to accommodate passing boats.

The Gateshead Millennium Bridge spans the River Tyne. It was a £22 million project completed in 2001 and is now one of the most dominant features of the town of Gateshead’s skyline. Known as the world’s first tilting pedestrian bridge, it takes four and a half minutes to complete its tilt. When the arch is raised, ships up to 82 feet (or 25 meters) can pass underneath.

Scale Lane Bridge – Hull, England

Scale Lane Bridge
The Scale Lane Bridge in Hull, England is shaped like an apostrophe.

Grammar nerds will appreciate the apostrophe-like shape of the Scale Lane Bridge as it swings out over the River Hull. It quite literally bridges the gap between the old and new of Hull by linking its Old Town to its industrial section. Unlike most other moveable bridges, pedestrians can actually stand on the bridge while it moves.

Pont-y-Ddraig – Rhyl, Wales

Pont y ddraig
A boat passes underneath one of the arms of Pont-y-Ddraig.

The Pont-y-Ddraig, or “Dragon’s Bridge,” is part of a multi-million-pound ongoing effort to breathe new life into one of Wales’ poorest seaside towns. The bridge cost £4.3 million and makes up part of the North Wales Coastal Route, a 109.2-mile cycling trail in North Wales.

A combination of foam, resin, glass, and carbon make up the bridge’s central mast and two foldable arms. Gurit (UK) engineered the bridge to accommodate the travel needs of pedestrians, cyclists, and boat operators alike.