Seesaw Bridge

Pastiche or innovation?

How to design an iconic bridge in the historical center of Amsterdam, cultural capital city of the Netherlands? How to relate to this rich, unique and beautifully shaped urban environment, one of the most acclaimed cityscapes worldwid­e? Could we make a bridge respectful of the historical surroundings of the inner-city and the canals, now part of the UNESCO World Heritage, without doing a pastiche? Or should the bridge rather incorporate an innovative spirit as reflected by Amsterdam’s recent 3rd innovation ranking in the Innovation Cities Index? Could the bridge contribute to the image of Amsterdam as one of the leading cities worldwide in terms of quality of living?

Welcome to the house-bridge

The trademark of the historical Amsterdam is represented by its 17th century canals, known as the Grachtengordel, which embrace the heart of the city where all houses have personalized gables. Could we turn the symbol of the private domain – the gable house, into an icon for the bridge as public realm? A house-bridge would inscribe itself as a humble yet remarkable presence within the historical surroundings, while in the same time contributing to Amsterdam’s welcoming glow by boosting family hospitality as represented by the house at city scale.

Inhabitable bridge

By extruding a gable front house profile across the Amstel, a house-bridge with reference to both the classical Hermitage Museum building and the neighborhood on the opposite bank of the Amstel canal emerges. Organizing the program in parallel strips creates an inhabitable bridge and secures maximum interaction between the passage, café, bicycle repair and service functions, which in turn contributes to a vibrant public space.

Amstel Plaza

The program is divided into two program blocks, according to noise level: the café (noisier), bicycle repair and service (less noisy). By placing the café towards East, in the proximity of the Hermitage Museum, and the other functions in the proximity of the residential area towards West, a ‘fine tuning’ of the program with respect to the surroundings is achieved. Stacking the program on two levels and ‘pushing’ the program blocks apart creates an open space in the middle of the bridge, which imbues architecture with urban qualities: a public plaza on the Amstel River has emerged!


Raising the middle section of the bridge secures uninterrupted views along the Amstel River under the bridge. The Amstel Plaza acquires a unique lifted position, thereby commanding magnificent views of the river and surroundings, nearby bridges, Hermitage Museum, as well as views of the Amsterdam Opera House and the historical Waterlooplein market towards North.

The gesture of lifting the plaza creates an iconic bridge figure: a striking presence, bold yet carefully inserted into the urban context.


The lifting of the bridges’ middle section transforms the horizontal program blocks into two 30m long sloping volumes. The 8% slopes secure optimal accessibility to pedestrians, bicyclists and disabled. Approaching along the river banks, the bridge volumes look like houses attached to the banks and projected over the Amstel with a 15m cantilever each, evoking the image of two giant seesaws pivoted in the middle. The spectacular setting of two houses balancing on the river edge is made possible by the rigid structure of the volumes, two beams balancing each on its central concrete core. The bridges’ second levels act as counterweights to balance the span as well as the weight of the Amstel Plaza.

Crossing = Socializing

While staging a uniquely interactive crossing experience, the seesaw bridge also provides references to the fabled double-swiped Magere Brug drawbridge nearby, and the tradition which connects crossing with a socializing opportunity, as ­­in the story of the two Mager sisters who lived on opposite sides of the river, and supposedly built the bridge to make it easier to see each other. This further contributes to rooting the bridge within the cultural context of Amsterdam.

Home in the city

As a symbol of the encounter between historical and contemporary culture, the bridge unites an eloquent house-shape with a transparent honey-comb façade provided with familiar window openings to create a surprisingly light and elegant presence, which turns the river crossing into a unique experience of interaction with the users, the seasons, and the surroundings.

The interaction between the stacked programs, together with the Amstel Plaza, create a unique mix of vibrant public spaces, held together by the familiar house shape, which adds a contemporary note of feeling home in the city to the reputed sense of Dutch homey-ness.


The Seesaw Bridge provides creative opportunities for implementing sustainable features to enhance durability and produce energy savings, while in the same making it work more effectively.

Cost-effective trusses balanced on two central concrete cores provide an efficient structural solution which responds empathically to the architectural and programmatic needs.

The lightweight façades provide great daylight conditions, natural ventilation and elegantly integrated brise-soleils for all the spaces, thereby transforming the users’ experience by optimizing views, natural light and thermal comfort. The facades also contribute to re-defining the bridge’s night-time signature, through integrated LED profiles which maintain the transparent façade look, while in the same time providing a sustainable and individually programmable lighting system.

The inhabitable bridge offers multiple use possibilities. The café could provide a new eating experience as a mix of food workshop, restaurant and cooking studio. It could also provide an informal working place during the day, where people can make use of internet and solar energy provided by integrated photovoltaics. By turning parts of the bridge into a greenhouse, food could be cultivated as a part of the Greens from Amsterdam concept for urban agriculture.

The plaza can be used for staging staggering public events, as a complementary structure to the Hermitage Museum, or simply as a great meeting place with the historical city as a perfect backdrop.

More than promoting healthy lifestyles and urban transport systems that are fuel-efficient and space-saving, the Seesaw Bridge proposes a new socially sustainable icon for the pedestrian bridge of the future.

Client: [AC-CA]

Program: Pedestrian bridge, Café 100m2, Bicycle Repair 50m2, Services including Facilities 20m2, Administration 30m2, 30 bicycle racks

Year: 2012

Location: Amstel River, Hermitage Amsterdam Museum axis, Amsterdam, Holland

Team: Serban Cornea, Kristina Adsersen, Jianzhou Zeng, Magdalena Szucio

Status: International Competition