Creation of a ‘floating’, light and transparent walkway bridge forming the backbone of the new scientific hub at the world-renowned research centre at Cern in Switzerland.

The 240m long spine bridge at Cern is at the heart of its new scientific hub to inspire the next generation. The main structure for the bridge is along its roof, with the two completely glazed sides and walkway underfoot supported by suspended slim tension rods from the structure above. People are protected from the sun by slatted side metallic canopies. It has been conceived to act as a street, ‘floating’ 6m above both carriageways of adjacent Route de Meyrin. The bridge is naturally ventilated and considered a space between the interior and exterior.

The primary aim for our structural engineers was to minimise the structure to maximise the amount of light in the space. To achieve this, our goal for the bridge was to remove as much of the steelwork as possible and use the glass floorplate as a rigid diaphragm, negating the need for visible cross bracing. The supporting tension rods offer no effective lateral restraint. By using our considerable in-depth knowledge of glass, we were able to investigate this option when others may have been inclined to stick with a more conventional design.

For bridges of this nature, dynamic response is a critical design parameter and is something that required us to carry out in depth studies to better understand its behavior under horizontal accelerations from pedestrians using the bridge.

The goal of maximum transparency presented a number of challenges to the design team. This included high thermal performance, dynamics, integration of lighting and the requirement for sliding opening doors to the vertical cladding of the enclosure. In addition, every part of the design has to be sensitive to the overall architectural language of the science gateway.

Geneva, Switzerland


Renzo Piano Building Workshop