Jim Stynes Bridge, Melbourne, Australia

A triumph of engineering and architectural collaboration

Innovative thinking was required to transform a pedestrian and cycle path project into an iconic legacy structure, dedicated to the late great footballer Jim Stynes who, after sporting retirement, was a philanthropist, charity worker and writer.

Collaboration Aurecon, Cox Architects and landscape specialists, Oculus, created the winning design for a safer link between the City of Melbourne’s CBD and two of its significant precincts, Docklands and Southbank. The 125 metre-long new bridge extends 30 metres over the Yarra River, giving the impression of hovering over the water.

Previously, movement in this area of the city was challenged by the hazards of crossing the six-lane highway leading onto the Charles Grimes road bridge. The State Government of Victoria, in partnership with the City of Melbourne, sought to create a safer and more amenable environment by funding and managing the delivery of the project.

Aurecon’s engineering solution brought to life a horizontal catenary structural concept that is unique in Australia, and stands proudly among only a few examples in the world. To fulfil all of the functional and spatial requirements, the design pushed the boundaries in many ways, demanding the company’s engineering ‘smarts’ be combined with  the highest quality materials and workmanship.

Designing the Jim Stynes Bridge as a catenary structure, extending out over the river, provided the solution to supporting a pedestrian and cyclist pathway through the limited space beneath the road bridge. However, it posed demanding challenges to engineer a slender support system to counter the downward and twisting forces.

Achieving the principle of ‘nothing more, nothing less’, the end result is beautifully elegant and simple, but involved significant structural ‘gymnastics’ in order to:

  • Thread the new bridge under the road bridge, high enough to be above a 1 in 10 year flood event, while providing sufficient headroom for cyclists
  • Comply with rigorous sustainable development principles by using high-performance and high-strength materials to achieve an extremely efficient design solution
  • Ensure the new structure would have minimal impact on upstream water levels in extreme flood events
  • Construct a perfectly circular bridge in plan for a stable structure
  • Align the support trusses with the structure of the overhead road bridge to accommodate the required connections

Enabling all of the design constraints to be tested at the click of a button and to evaluate and easily modify different layouts of the structure, the design team used its digital engineering expertise at 3D parametric modelling. This resolved the geometry of the structure in a matter of hours, whereas the traditional method would have taken weeks.

In order to construct the bridge effectively, the steelwork was fabricated in 14 smaller modules. Each module incorporated sophisticated, tailor-made, steel couplers that could be rotated, expanded or contracted, to enable the accurate adjustment of the module when assembling the structure. The modules were loaded onto a barge and floated along the Yarra River to be lifted into position and suspended by temporary chain blocks, allowing them to be manoeuvred into position.

“The Jim Stynes Bridge adds to the urban infrastructure as both a superbly functional amenity and a magnificent tribute to one of Melbourne’s heroes. The intriguing new bridge embraces engineering constraints and challenges, cleverly using them to its advantage with a result that benefits the local community in a beautifully designed structure,” says Peter Murenu, Technical Director and Structural Engineer at Aurecon.

“A much safer and amenable link between the CBD, Docklands and Southbank, the bridge also encourages people to run, walk and cycle as part of their everyday life.”

Jim Stynes Bridge won an Award of Excellence at the Lightweight Structures Association Australasia (LSAA) Design Awards 2016, was a finalist and received a Commendation for the global Institute of Structural Engineers’ Structural Awards 2016, and won the Engineering projects category for the Australian Structural Institute (ASI) Steel Excellence Awards 2016 – Victoria, receiving a High Commendation at the subsequent national awards.

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