2014 Aurecon recruitment banner

Digital Expertise: Case study

Barangaroo Reserve – From blank canvas to masterpiece

A naturalised landscape

Just like an artist starting with a blank canvas, so did the team responsible for creating Barangaroo Reserve along Sydney’s western foreshore.

That unnerving and intimidating feeling of a blank canvas was overcome to create a modern urban masterpiece, strategically designed to reflect the harbour’s past.

Barangaroo Reserve was the transformation of a disused container terminal on the edge of Sydney’s CBD into a spectacular 22-hectare waterfront precinct. Using huge fingered blocks of sandstone, digital engineering reimagined the harbour foreshore, incorporating a collection of planned urban linkages to help reunite the city with its harbour.

Barangaroo Reserve was the transformation of a disused container terminal on the edge of Sydney’s CBD into a spectacular 22-hectare waterfront precinct.

This project is a story of collaboration between every single person who poured their heart, soul, skills and passion into it.

Reaching for the right tool

The magnitude of this project was not lost on Aurecon in its role as engineering designer. As an artist begins with the right tools before painting, so did Aurecon, using digital engineering to visually design the sandstone elements.

This visionary and harmonious design solution represented inspired thinking and collaboration between Aurecon, the contractor Lendlease, architects, landscape designers and the Barangaroo Delivery Authority.

It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of Barangaroo Reserve, both in terms of what it represents to the city of Sydney and as a testament to the use of innovative digital engineering and groundbreaking design and construction.

As the first areas of Barangaroo Reserve were opened to the public, it marked the first time in more than 100 years that people were able to access this part of Sydney’s western waterfront.

Sandstone fingers outstretch to the water’s edge

The story of Barangaroo Reserve’s sandstone foreshore is one of unique design, exceptional engineering and naturalised landscape achievements.

The story of Barangaroo Reserve’s sandstone foreshore is one of unique design, exceptional engineering and naturalised landscape achievements.

The rugged naturalistic sandstone topography was inspired by the contrast between the original pre-1836 shoreline of the historic area and the new modern buildings of the CBD.

No project in history has used more Sydney sandstone than in the creation of Barangaroo Reserve, to bring to life the extraordinary reimagined headland on the city’s doorstep.

Before any of the foreshore sandstone blocks were cut and moved in real-life, their final resting place was planned and designed in the virtual world using digital engineering.

Data + [sort + arrange] = knowledge

Like an artist picking up a brush to apply the first colour to a blank canvas, Aurecon began the virtual design of the sandstone foreshore with the keystrokes of digital engineering.

Digital engineering design tools traditionally used in building design were adapted and applied to the civil design of the new foreshore. A great example of turning a traditional approach on its head to suit a completely different style of project.

As the data was transformed into a digital model, each part of the foreshore was mapped out precisely in advance, so that every individual block of sandstone could be slotted perfectly into place like a giant 3D jigsaw.

Take a walk along the foreshore today and the sandstone blocks appear random in nature but in fact, each rock was specifically positioned based on its colour, size and quality.

Building in the virtual world

In the virtual world that Aurecon built using digital engineering, each of the 10 000 sandstone blocks was manoeuvred into place to reflect:

  • The architectural intent of a randomised naturalistic finish
  • Visual appeal
  • Extending the reserve into the water’s edge
  • Characteristics of the original headland that existed in 1836
  • The animated effects of the tide over our ‘controlled but randomised’ rock placement

This was by no means an easy task. The digital artistry that was applied enabled the project team to experiment and test the foreshore design and rock installation, among the virtual tidal ebbs and flows in the harbour before construction began.

Aurecon's 4D digital model showed the exact position of each numbered sandstone block before construction began

Aurecon's 4D digital model showed the exact position of each numbered sandstone block before construction began

A virtual rehearsal before construction began

Construction materials and configuration went hand in hand, reflecting the structure of the reserve’s layout, which was intentionally natural and colourful.

Sandstone blocks were tagged in the digital model using GPS technology and a QR code. Each block was then given a barcode to identify where it should be placed along the foreshore. The patterning arrangement of the sandstone blocks was designed in the digital model to emulate the essence of the formation in nature.

A mobile phone app was developed to allow the contractor to identify and track every block as it arrived on site and was placed into position.

Each sandstone block used to build Barangaroo's foreshore was given a barcode to identify where it should be placed using GPS.

Each sandstone block used to build Barangaroo's foreshore was given a barcode to identify where it should be placed using GPS.

The combination of the app and the specifications of each sandstone block in the digital model enabled the perfect placement of each block without any gaps between neighbouring rocks. Knowing the advance position of each block was of enormous benefit to the site team responsible for extracting, stockpiling and handling the sandstone blocks.

Aurecon’s engineers can still remember the impact on the project team as they carried out a rehearsal of the sandstone foreshore construction in 4D. The 4D visualisation fostered confidence within the team that the placement of blocks was thoroughly planned and tested; yet in a way that reflected the historical characteristics of the site and the architectural intent.

The aptly named Cutaway

Hidden beneath the artificial hill that is now home to Sydney’s native botanic garden, The Cutaway is a fundamental part of Barangaroo Reserve. Raw and imposing, it offers a subterranean space for large-scale events.

As a blank canvas project, many elements hadn’t been done before. This meant that everything was challenged and questioned as to what was possible, plausible and highly imaginative. Innovation flourished to create bespoke masterpieces that highlight the artistic expression of The Cutaway.

The Cutaway is aptly named as it was the site from which 93 per cent of the sandstone blocks were quarried to be used along the foreshore.

After each rock was designed, categorised and tagged in the virtual world, it was cut according to its virtual attributes and transferred to its final resting spot in the recreated foreshore. The team knew the size, attribute and final position of each block before it was quarried.

The juxtaposition of traditional stonemason techniques with modern digital engineering technology was particularly intriguing on Barangaroo Reserve: engineering solutions that underpin what is a naturalistic landscape.

Hidden beneath the artificial hill that is now home to Sydney’s native botanic garden, The Cutaway is a fundamental part of Barangaroo Reserve.

Recreating the past in line with the vision for the future

The Cutaway is without comparison

Digital engineering was used to document, plan and track the progress of sandstone extraction from The Cutaway area.

The sandstone was extracted as ‘birthing blocks’, the size of flatbed trucks. Each of the blocks was assessed for its grade and suitability to birth smaller, car-sized blocks that would eventually be cut and naturalised for installation along the foreshore.

It has been commented that without the benefit of digital engineering, the sandstone foreshore may have taken up to ten times longer to build.

The genius of this project’s design is that it has created two distinct facilities which seamlessly co-exist. The beautifully landscaped foreshore sitting serenely on the surface and the vast, 75 000 cubic metre, multifunctional cavernous space beneath, with neither entity taking space or focus away from the other.

The Cutaway is the length of the Sydney Cricket Ground and as deep as a five-storey building.

Using digital engineering, Aurecon designed the space in collaboration with Lendlease, the architect, landscape designers and Barangaroo Delivery Authority, to create the subterranean space with natural beauty and functional form.

Digital engineering was used to optimise the engineering design based on bridge technology. The bridge-strength standard concrete columns have an estimated life of more than 100 years and the seamless installation of a 5500 square metre roof structure was completed in only 15 days.

This flexible multi-use events and cultural space features 14-metre-high ceilings and a dramatic sandstone cliff face running the length of the interior, illuminated by skylights set into the landscaping above.

Using digital engineering, Aurecon designed the Cutaway in collaboration with Lendlease, the architect, landscape designers and Barangaroo Delivery Authority, to create the subterranean space with natural beauty and functional form.

Taking on the risk for the reward

The site of Barangaroo Reserve started as one derelict asphalt deck blank canvas, six hectares in size and quite flat. It’s fitting that it has been returned to its original natural form for people to use, visit and enjoy every day.

So many elements hadn’t been done before, which didn’t discourage the team but only motivated them to deliver as many innovations as possible. What the project team has created is a bespoke and incredibly unique project.

Digital engineering provided the team with new ways to envision and deliver design, enabling them to innovate and develop solutions that pushed the boundaries of imagination and creativity.

Just as an artist can stand back and admire their masterpiece at the end of a planned yet intense painting process, so can the Barangaroo Reserve project team. What has been achieved is triumphant and the award-winning iconic waterfront and multi-use destination will be a crowning jewel in the CBD’s western foreshore for generations to come.

To top