Positive tension

Wednesday 25 Jul 2012

Cox Architecture completes world's largest structure to be based upon the principles of 'tensegrity'

The dramatic 'tensegrity' geometry of Kurilpa Bridge evolved from the Queensland Government's drive to connect the Queensland Cultural Centre across Brisbane's river to its CBD without impacting upon an important park to Aboriginal people on the cultural centre side. A further reason for the structure was the need to span over the city's major motorway on the CBD side.

Both specific requirements necessitated searching for a structure which had minimum thickness of deck, so that the ramp into the park became as little impacting on the park as possible, so that the structure could span the motorway and descend into a city street seamlessly.

The tensegrity structure, based upon Richard Buckminster Fuller's 1960s studies and later the American sculptor Kenneth Snelson's work, facilitated the thinness of deck required as it gains its stability from balance of compressive and tensile forces in its spars and cables respectively. The structure became the first of its type in the world.

The Government equally wanted a potent statement about Brisbane as a fitness-orientated, subtropical city of walking and cycling, thus the architects' delight in evolving such a dynamic structure that has been described as affording the experience of a bridge which seems to 'move along with you'.

Cox Architecture were excited that the concept stemmed from Snelson's work, as it meant that the design originated in the art world, forming an experiential sculpture that connects the city to its art galleries. Its overall low, fine-membered horizontal profile avoids conflicting with the city and gallery scale and bulk of motorway.

As noted, the type is a response to specific client requirements and to the broader one of imparting memorable identity to the act of walking and cycling, and the even wider one of identifying Brisbane as a design-led, art-focussed city.

The white steel needles frame the people journeying along the bridge, creating a new type of public space in the city as well as a new connection between major precincts. Concrete contrasts as the deck element, its plasticity used to fold up to create a series of viewing and gathering spaces projecting out from the span, with steel overlaid and etched to illustrate stories of Aboriginal people's history of using this place in the river as their primary crossing route.

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