Madrid Footbridge Conference 2022 was held 7-9 September and is the continuation of a series that started in Paris in 2002, and then hosted by locations such as Porto, Venice, Wroclaw, London and Berlin.

This year’s theme ‘Creating Experiences’ created discussion around how footbridges are perceived and experienced by owners and users. 120 topics were covered over the three-day conference, with contributions from professionals across Europe, Australia and America. The conference keynote speakers included well-known industry professionals within the bridge design field including Martin Knight, Laurent Ney and Andreas Keil.

The conference was attended by two representatives from SMEC in South Africa – Maja Wilson, Section Manager and Warrick De Kock, Civil Engineer. Both were chosen for submission to the conference and accepted by the conference review panel to showcase footbridge projects with unique challenges and experiences for their clients, designers and community that used them.

Maja presented “The many inputs to creating a single moving form” focusing on Cape Town’s iconic V&A Swingbridge. The presentation highlighted the design challenges of the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town where the existing swing bridge could no longer accommodate the pedestrian demand. Recognised as part of the V&A Waterfront identity and a memorable part of any visitor’s experience, the new 4 m wide bridge doubles the previous crossing’s capacity and improves access across the cut to the expanding Clock Tower Precinct.

The client’s key functional drivers and the design team’s aspirations came together to create a bespoke and beautiful bridge. The team was able to overcome design and construction challenges to create a solution that has enhanced the V&A experience for visitors. Performing to the same high standards of its predecessor, the new footbridge opens and closes up to sixty times a day, carrying up to 2.4 million people per year.

Warrick’s presentation outlined the journey of the Wupperthal Footbridge in Cederberg mountain range of the Western Cape. Wupperthal is home to 1400 inhabitants and a growing tourist destination. An adjacent river, however, is a barrier during the wet season for farm children trying to reach the town’s school. A permanent footbridge was therefore recently commissioned to replace temporary structures that have proved dangerous.

His presentation explored insights into the difficulties of building bridges in rural locations. It highlighted how standard solutions can be transformed within limited means to create simple but striking structures.

Both presentations drew on unique experiences for the clients, designers and end users and were well received by those in attendance. The V&A Swing Bridge was also nominated for an award in the Moving Bridge Category. Overall, this industry event offered an opportunity to expand technical abilities and network with key contributors in the bridge design field.