The unspoiled blue waters of the Garzón lagoon – a stone's throw from Uruguay's breathtaking southern beaches – now feature a new ring-shaped bridge, courtesy of Uruguay-born, New York-based architect Rafael Viñoly.

'The concept was to transform a traditional vehicular crossing into an event that reduces the speed of the cars, to provide an opportunity to enjoy panoramic views of an amazing landscape, and at the same time create a pedestrian place in the centre where people can sit, fish, bathe, and stay above the water at a unique point of view,' says Viñoly.

The new connection unites the nearby, inland village of José Ignacio with the seemingly endless stretch of empty, picture-perfect sandy beaches along the coast, and the maritime towns of La Paloma and La Pedrera.

The bridge, affording 360-degree views, replaces a system of slow rafts, which allowed only two cars to pass at time. This 'lagoon inside a lagoon' sits on round concrete pillars that support two straight ramp sections. A central rotunda with two lanes of traffic is sandwiched between two pedestrian walkways. This is a crossing clearly designed to slow circulation, minimising the impact on a lagoon that is a known sanctuary for black-necked swans, snow geese, flamingos and egrets.

'The whole initiative from the beginning was geared towards diminishing the impact on a very sensitive eco-system. By splitting the tracks of the bridge, we could reduce the shadows over an area that is famous for its clam harvesting,' says Viñoly. 'The profile of the section and the reduced number of columns, which was possible because of the circular form of the structure, contribute to the same.'

Viñoly donated his design and services for this project, while Eduardo Costantini, the mastermind behind the MALBA museum in Buenos Aires and developer of Las Garzas – a deluxe residential condo just across the bridge, in Rocha – invested heavily in its construction. An estimated 20 per cent of the total cost was paid by the local government. Created according to the area's environmental standards, the project's section for car traffic was designed to handle about 1000 vehicles a day.

This is clearly a project close to its architect's heart. 'I have a lifelong attachment to this area, where I spent most of my childhood, when the place was a marvellous unpolluted environment that became challenged by land speculation and a complete lack of planning that could control it,' he concludes. 'It was almost a moral and intellectual obligation.'