Montreal

New Samuel De Champlain Bridge built for performance, not style, says architect

The Danish architect behind the new Samuel De Champlain Bridge is telling Montrealers not to be disappointed by its appearance, as function and on-time delivery were the design priorities.

Inaugurated on same day as old bridge was in 1962, this one's built to last 125 years

The new bridge — one of North America's largest infrastructure projects – opened to northbound traffic June 24. It will open in the other direction on July 1, Canada Day. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

The architect behind the new Samuel De Champlain Bridge is telling Montrealers not to be disappointed by its appearance, as function and on-time delivery were the design priorities.

Poul Ove Jensen defended the minimalist look of the bridge on the eve of its official inauguration Friday.

"You don't dream of strange forms — you look at the function and difficulties of each place," Jensen said.

Jensen said the curvature worked into the bridge design makes it more esthetically pleasing.

Poul Ove Jensen talks about the new bridge, built to stand for 125 years. 0:54

But he said that in the end, there's only so much you can do in designing a bridge destined to become a landmark.

"If you look at the Golden Gate, everybody knows it," he said, referring to the suspension bridge linking San Francisco and Marin County. "You have a fantastic city. The bridge is not that special, but the setting is fantastic."

Jensen is the director of bridges with the Danish firm Dissing+Weitling. The structure's look was a collaboration between three engineering and architectural firms: his, Arup Canada and Provencher Roy.

Pressures of time

Jensen said he was asked to prioritize delivering the bridge on time, since the original Champlain Bridge was "crumbling."

Despite the team's best efforts, its delivery was still six months behind schedule.

The various delays pushed back the opening and added another $235 million to the original $4.2-billion price tag.

The bridge is built to last 125 years, and Jensen laughs that he doesn't know if people will still be driving cars by the end of the bridge's lifespan.

Infrastructure and Communities Minister François-Philippe Champagne, right, and retired senator Serge Joyal, left, pose with a bust of Samuel de Champlain and construction workers at the bridge's official inauguration. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Friday's inauguration comes 57 years to the day after the first Champlain Bridge opened on June 28, 1962.

The new bridge — one of North America's largest infrastructure projects – opened to northbound traffic June 24. It will open in the other direction on July 1, Canada Day.

A year-round pedestrian and bike path will open later this summer on the 3.4-kilometre span.

The old Champlain Bridge will close permanently late Friday, and its demolition, set to begin next year, will take about three years to complete at an estimated cost of $400 million.

With files from Radio Canada and The Canadian Press

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