London's Tower Bridge is one of the best-known bridges in the world, feted for its unusual but iconic design. Its twin towers and drawbridges allow sailing ships to pass beneath it, while pedestrians could cross over the top. But despite its ancient Gothic appearance, Tower Bridge is only a recent addition to the Thames river-scape. It was designed and built at in the 19th century, and opened by the Prince of Wales in 1894. Since then it has stamped itself into the world's mind, as a brilliant example of Great Britain's quirky and fun take on buildings in its capital.
But what the designers had in mind wasn't the making of an iconic bridge, but solving the problem of congestion in the East End of London. A bridge was needed, but boats with tall masts still sailed upstream to the Port of London. A drawbridge design allowed road traffic to cross, until a ship needed to pass beneath it, when traffic would be halted and the central sections would swing upwards. The genius of the design was to build two towers on each side to act as support for the other sections – and also letting pedestrians cross via raised walkways between them.
Because the site chosen was next to the famous medieval castle of the Tower of London, it was decided to deck the towers out in Gothic splendour. The result was that the drawbridge and towers of Tower Bridge made a perfect fit to those of the castle behind it. Now Tower Bridge is opened much less for river traffic – though still up to three times a day – and it takes the strain for commuters heading to and from the East End of London. And it remains a star attraction, hosting atmospheric lights for celebrations, and the Olympic Rings during the 2012 Olympic Games. Not forgetting the hordes of tourists who come to peer at its mechanics, and walk across its famous walkways.