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  • Writer's pictureSafer Highways

Evolution of gantries – the hunt is on to find a new design for vital motorway structures

The look of England’s motorways has evolved in recent decades and now the search is on to redesign one of the network’s most iconic features – the gantry.

As part of its good design initiative, National Highways is seeking concepts for a new generation of highway gantries through a competition to be run by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).

As motorways have developed over the decades, new types of gantry designs have been introduced in response to changes in technology, traffic levels and policy considerations. They have evolved from the humble beginnings of basic signs at the side of the road to the newest gantries spanning the carriageway, allowing both fixed text signs and dynamic information to keep drivers informed of real-time traffic information.

Mike Wilson, National Highways’ Chief Highways Engineer said:

“This is a great opportunity for us to start to look for creative solutions aligned with our commitment to good road design. I am excited to see this competition launch.

“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.”

“The competition opens up the opportunity 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.”

Jonathan McDowell, RIBA Architect Adviser said:

“It is very encouraging that National Highways are actively engaging the design community in helping to improve the design of these ubiquitous but cumbersome parts of the motorway experience – we look forward to seeing a wide range of creative and elegant proposals that take up the challenge.”

The competition being run by RIBA launches today and runs for eight weeks. It is open to all architects and architect led teams. It is being funded by National Highways’ designated fund for innovation & modernisation. Those capable and experienced in designing such structures and working alongside structural engineers are encouraged to apply.

The competition will not alter the technology that sits behind the physical gantries and any new designs will ultimately still have road safety at their core.

It forms part of an ongoing strategy by National Highways to constantly improve and refine the design of England’s busiest roads, which are used by around 4 million vehicles each day. The company’s good design initiative sets out 10 principles for the network, including that designs should be sensitive to the landscape, heritage and local community; focus on the essentials while eliminating confusing clutter; and be environmentally sustainable, multi-functional and resilient. The company’s fifth annual report on the progress of the good design initiative was published last week.

The winner, expected to be announced early next year, will work with National Highways to develop their design concept, with a view to it becoming the standard design for new roads and major upgrades from around 2 years’ time.

The submission deadline is 12:00 midday (GMT) on Tuesday 24 January 2023. The full competition brief can be found on the competition webpage at:

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 the information they need to reach their destinations.

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