22,000 sheets of red paper arc gracefully over fast-flowing mountain river

A stark vision in red, set against the verdant greens of the Helvellyn peak in the Lake District, a bridge made entirely from paper takes its place in the British countryside to defy both belief and gravity.

22,000 sheets of poppy red paper and 4 tonnes of stone drawn from the river bed are all that environmental artist; Steve Messam is using to create PaperBridge, a stunning intervention into one of Britain’s most dramatic landscapes.  This remarkable, weight-bearing paper bridge, resplendent in red, will straddle a flowing waterway in the beautiful Lake District as part of Lakes Ignite from Friday 8 May 2015.

Using traditional stone bridge building methods, starting with stone-filled cages to root the structure to the ground at either side of the river, before using an innovative wooden form to shape the arc of the paper, Messam uses no adhesives or fixings to keep the paper in place. The design of the form comes courtesy of Peter Foskett, formerly of the renowned Pentagram design agency, who has designed it to be raised fractionally towards the end of the construction to ensure a smooth, compact arch as the final sheets of paper are inserted.

Supplied by one of Britain’s oldest and locally based paper manufacturers, James Cropper, the paper is more commonly found in packaging for luxury brands than in the construction of all-weather, rural bridges.  The challenge of ensuring it stands up to all elements, from the weather to curious animals, has not been lost on the artist, who has been careful to ensure that the environmental impact of the installation is close to zero, by selecting colour-fast papers and using stone found only on or near to the site itself.

Steve Messam says: “PaperBridge relies on vernacular architectural principles as used in the drystone walls and the original pack-horse bridges that dot the Lake District, using gravity and the pressure between the sheets of paper to form a strong structure. These have stood, in many cases, for more than a century so the principles of its design ensure it is strong enough to take the weight of people and local livestock if they become curious. None of the red colour will run into the water or surrounding earth and the paper will comfortably stand up to expected weather conditions.”

Anticipated to confuse and delight walkers who encounter it for around ten days, the installation is one of a series of temporary cultural installations set to appear in the Lake District National Park through 2015, commissioned by Lakes Culture. Sited at a stream above Patterdale in Cumbria, the location is deliberately remote, ensuring that visitors can enjoy it in peace and consider the contrast of the construction to the unspoilt, natural setting.

Usha Mistry, Project Manager for Lakes Culture, says: ‘’PaperBridge is a unique large-scale temporary installation made entirely from bright red paper traversing a flowing river in the iconic Lake District landscape as part of ‘Lakes Ignite’, Lakes Culture’s showcase spring arts programme. As part of the programme Lakes Culture, working alongside some of the region’s key arts organisations, has commissioned a number of unique art pieces: Harmonica Botanica, Point To Point, Take Me Back to Manchester film, as well as PaperBridge. This is part of a pro-active project that demonstrates how this unique area has resonated with artists in the past and continues to inspire makers and performers working across a vast array of art forms, firmly emphasising the Lake District’s important role within the UK’s rich cultural life.’’

The PaperBridge concept has been in development for a number of years, but the organisation of the paper sheets to form the bridge takes just a matter of hours once initial onsite preparations have been made. A short period of testing makes the bridge sound for intrepid visitors to take their first steps over a river on nothing but paper. Once the installation has come to its end, the paper will return to James Cropper Paper in nearby Burneside, Kendal for recycling.

Chris Brown, Commercial Director for James Cropper Paper comments: “Paper has so many surprising qualities and uses, but PaperBridge takes the sheer weight of our product and lets nature do the rest. It’s a brilliantly simple idea that takes real ingenuity to pull off, so all credit to the artist in achieving what appears to be the impossible. The choice of colour, a stark red that won’t run into the water beneath, is an inspired choice and we’re very pleased that the paper will return to us to be recycled to support inspirational projects for other artists or designers.”

To find out more about art and culture in the Lake District, Cumbria or about ‘Lakes Ignite’ please visit and

To find out more about the work of the environmental artist, Steve Messam, and to follow project updates please visit and

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