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Digital Expertise: Case study

Brisbane Ferry Terminals – The art of collaboration

Starting with a blank canvas

This story follows the power of collaboration. The objectives of the Brisbane Ferry Terminals project brought about a kaleidoscope of ideas to be transformed into:

  • Improving flood resilience
  • Achieving disabled access compliance
  • Delivering a modern and elegant design for travellers to enjoy and celebrate the Brisbane River

Video Transcript: Brisbane Flood Resilient and Accessible Ferry Terminals Design

Picture the background

The 2011 flooding of the Brisbane River caused devastation to homes, businesses and Brisbane’s public transport infrastructure whereby many of Brisbane’s ferry terminals were destroyed or severely damaged.

The Brisbane Ferry Terminals project has delivered a shining example of ferry terminal ingenuity, driving flood resilient structures which are accessible to all. It is believed to be the world’s first example of a solution to providing level landings to achieve compliant disability access in public ferry infrastructure.

Technical innovation, flood resilience and elegant form to deliver terminals that will become iconic features of our river city. Garry Graham, Chair, QLD Institution of Civil Engineers Committee

Drawing together digital tools for collaboration

The engineering and architectural outcomes on this iconic Brisbane project were amplified with digital engineering tools that not only allowed, but enabled, collaboration between our multidisciplinary team. The depth of this collaboration is at the core of the project’s many innovations.

Encouraged by a blank canvas of trust from our client, Aurecon and Cox Architecture used digital engineering tools to marry the engineering and architectural intent to design the new generation ferry terminals and a truly special outcome for Brisbane after the 2011 flooding.

The terminals deliver a modern, ambitious and elegant architectural design in a maritime environment that eliminates the traditional array of pontoon guide piles.

The terminals deliver a modern, ambitious and elegant but accessible for all architectural design.

Choosing from the digital palette

It is fair to say that Aurecon and Cox Architecture had to radically rethink the ferry terminal archetype, re-conceiving both function and form. Rather than increasing bulk and mass to withstand nature’s force, the inspired design enhances the experience of river travel.

The digital engineering tools used on the Brisbane Ferry Terminals project were diverse. Tools that were well suited to a high level of definition were needed for the more complex engineering componentry and mechanisms of the terminal.

But it was the modelling and visualisation tools used by the team, that provided the biggest support to collaboration.

Designing from the same brush

When Aurecon’s engineering modelling allowed Cox Architecture to understand the function and form of the engineering components, excitement set in. Cox Architecture was able to transform the engineering components, designed for functionality, durability, flexibility and buoyancy, into the architecturally memorable elements. The brushstrokes as part of the final piece of art.

“For the team to convey the engineering intent using 2D drawings would have been extremely difficult,” said Michael Argent, Aurecon Resources & Manufacturing Leader, South East Queensland.

“The ease of this design and engineering process would not have been possible without the use of visualisation. Using visualisation was an enabler to Aurecon, to design the ferry terminals to be resilient to future flooding and allow disability access. But at the same time, it allowed Cox Architecture to imagine how the engineering components could be part of the architectural statement,” said Argent.

The modelling and visualisation tools used by the team provided the biggest support to collaboration.

The modelling and visualisation tools used by the team provided the biggest support to collaboration.

Painting the future

Digital modelling was the platform to design three unique project features for resilience and longevity:

  • A world-first gangway system was developed, comprising of a series of suspended floor platforms that respond to the tide, pivoting to achieve compliant disability ramp gradients with intermediate level landings at all times.
  • A single sculpted pier allows commuters panoramic views of the Brisbane River and deflects debris away from the pontoon while also providing primary restraint of the pontoon.
  • A gangway was devised that incorporated floatation tanks, so that in the event of rising flood waters it lifts off a pin, rotating out of harm’s way to allow debris to pass through. After flood waters recede it is rotated back into position.

The result is an impressive integration of form and function, delivering elegant, bespoke dynamic and static elements that provide highly functional, resilient public infrastructure.

Brisbane's elegant, flood-resilient and wheel-chair accessible ferry terminals

This project was the pinnacle of evolutionary design with a bold departure from convention.

The brushstrokes to success

This project was not your everyday, off-the-shelf design and fabrication. It required in-depth finite element work of connections and joints that normally would be the bones behind the architectural facade, but in this case are part of the architectural showpieces.

It required finessing the design to a much greater extent because the entire structure had to be in balance. By interpreting the visual models, Aurecon and Cox Architecture could see what impact any design change would have on this balance.

“The engineering structure is visible so controlling the shape and the size of what we were engineering was really important from an architectural perspective,” said Michael Argent. “The use of digital modelling allowed us to test and retest design scenarios.”

Arne Nilsen and his children walking the ferry gangway

Aurecon's Arne Nilsen and his children walking the ferry gangway

As an example, the detachable gangways include what Aurecon believes to be the world’s thickest aluminium hollow tubes. Just like Boeing would use aluminium so an aeroplane could fly, Aurecon had to use aluminium to make the gangways lightweight enough to float, yet strong and durable enough to support the pontoon, be architecturally pleasing, and be able to withstand the marine environment.

Arne Nilsen and his children walking the ferry gangway

Aurecon's Arne Nilsen and his children walking the ferry gangway

The artwork on the river

Boundaries were pushed across every element of design to make these modern and elegant terminals synonymous with Brisbane’s forward-looking attitude to public transport and essentially create an art series feature for the river city.

The design enhances commuters’ experience of, and connection to, the city’s key feature – its river. The terminals are integrated and linked across eight socially and environmentally different landscapes, and passengers can return to using ferry transport shortly after a flood.

The result is an elegant flood resilient design for Brisbane City Council’s public transport infrastructure and something that can adopted by any ferry terminal network around the world, particularly those subject to flooding.

The Brisbane Ferry Terminals project won the 2017 Good Design of the Year Award.

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