Winner of our gantry design competition announced
09 Mar 2023
The competition, organised by National Highways in conjunction with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), attracted 32 entries from architectural firms across the UK and Europe.
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The winning entry, created by Useful Studio and shown above, was chosen by the judges for its elegance and simplicity, and how cohesive the design concept was across a range of different structures. As well as a modern look, it will have less impact on the environment, with a projected reduced carbon footprint compared to current gantries.
Useful Studio will now work with us to develop its design concept, with a view to it becoming the standard design for new roads and major upgrades from around two years’ time.
Millions of drivers see gantries every day as a routine part of their journeys – and probably don’t give them much thought. However, they are vital to providing safe and reliable journeys and giving drivers information they need to reach their destinations.
Our Executive Director for Operations Duncan Smith said:
“This is a great opportunity for us to develop a more streamlined, elegant, and consistent visual appearance for roadside gantries to enhance drivers’ experience when driving on England’s motorways and Major A-roads.
“Existing designs tend to emphasise function over form, our challenge is to create innovative structures that can accommodate the required signage and equipment that are more sympathetic to the environment.
“In selecting Useful Studio as the winner, the judging panel admired the simplicity and elegance of the pared-back design approach, and the opportunities it presented in terms of a resource efficient, standardised, coherent suite of gantry structures that would be potentially sympathetic to a broad range of settings and contexts.”
Jonathan McDowell, RIBA Architect Adviser, added:
“It is very encouraging that National Highways is actively engaging the design community in helping to improve the design of these ubiquitous but cumbersome parts of the motorway experience – we enjoyed seeing a wide range of creative and elegant proposals that took up the challenge.”
We've been seeking a more streamlined, elegant and consistent visual appearance for roadside gantries to enhance the public’s driving experience. Existing designs tend to be heavily engineered, with an emphasis on function over form.
These changes go hand-in-hand with creating a more efficient standardised structure that also has a reduced carbon footprint, both in terms of the carbon needed for construction and also lower operational and maintenance costs.
The winning entry uses less steel than existing designs, meaning less embodied carbon, and the use of pre-weathered rather than painted steel. The design follows existing best practice from other highways structures and ages better than painted steel, meaning potentially lower maintenance requirements and fewer lane closures and delays for drivers.
It can be adapted for different types of structures including those spanning all carriageways and the roadside signs. We currently have 3,500 gantries, but won’t be immediately replacing structures.
Although security issues did not form part of the original specification, the new design will be more resilient to trespassers due to entry being concealed within the pillars, making it more difficult to access without authorisation.
Other entries also demonstrated a range of fresh thinking and innovation in approach to the design, including wood composite and LED panel-based designs, as well as identifying the challenge of removing gantries completely in favour of in-vehicle displays.
A design by John McAslan + Partners won second place in the competition and three other concepts were highly commended by the judging panel, which was made up of experts in the architectural and highways fields.
(The second place design. The judging panel admired the clarity and dynamism of the concept, which combined a sculptural primary mast and cable-stayed lightweight modular gantry truss, and its potential to be developed into an elegant family of structures.)
The competition is part of our good design initiative, which sets out 10 principles for good road design, including that they should:
- fit into context: good road design demonstrates sensitivity to the landscape, heritage and local community
- be understandable: good road design focusses on the essentials and eliminates unnecessary and confusing clutter
- be environmentally sustainable: multi-functional, resilient and sustainable, good roads achieve net environmental gain.
It has been funded by our designated fund, innovation and modernisation theme. Useful Studio will go on to work with our structures team to adapt the design to meet road safety and design standards. The new structures could be part of new road upgrades delivered in two to three years’ time.
In 2018, we set out an ambition for our road upgrades to better complement the natural and built environment in which they lie, and this competition is being run as part of our commitment to delivering that ambition. As well as a better design, having a standardised design will help create a more consistent look and feel across the network for drivers and also make projects more efficient to deliver and help with maintenance regimes.