Northern Spire

Sunderland, UK

Forming a major part of the regeneration of the North East, Northern Spire is the first road bridge to be built in Sunderland for more than 45 years.

Crossing the River Wear, it carries two lanes of traffic in each direction, together with dedicated cycle ways and footpaths, creating a much-needed safe passage for all modes of transport.


Buro Happold has worked on the project since tender stage, and recently supported the final stages of the bridge construction. As well as the river bridge, there are a number of surrounding road highway structures that also formed part of our scope.

The brief from the client was to deliver the bridge within a tight timeframe, which was particularly challenging due to the size and scale of the bridge, which stands taller than Big Ben.

Northern Spire in broad daylight, cars pass along its surface
Fabricated off site, the bridge’s pylon stands 105 metres above the river. Image: Sunderland City Council


We successfully completed the detailed design of the River Bridge in less than six months. This in itself is a major achievement in bridge engineering, as detailed designs for structures of this size and scale would usually take two or three times this to complete. The resulting design is an imposing two span cable-stayed bridge with an A-frame pylon.

A key part of our work involved developing an innovative construction method that includes an incremental deck launch and roll up of Northern Spire’s main pylon. This approach allowed off-site manufacture of the bridge steelwork, which was then delivered by sea to the Port of Sunderland. This has enabled the pylon to be transported as a single, 100 metre long, steel element, which will stand at 105 metres once raised onto its final position. By minimising the amount of work carried out on site, we increased safety for people working on site, while delays resulting from variables such as bad weather were removed.

Northern Spire against a vibrant pink and red sunset
An unprecedented project for Buro Happold in both size and scale, Northern Spire is the largest bridge the team has worked on. Image: Sunderland City Council.


Reflecting the truly collaborative nature of this project, we worked with a design team from all over Europe. This has brought many fresh perspectives to the design, while enabling all members of the team to share their unique knowledge and skills to deliver the best solutions.

Northern Spire lit up against a purple sunset



Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), Special Project Award: Winner


Engineers Ireland Excellence Awards, Geoscience Ireland Award: Winner


British Construction Industry Awards, Transport Project of the Year: Winner


ACEI Design Excellence Awards, Design Excellence Overseas Award: Winner


RICS Awards North East, Infrastructure Category: Winner

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