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    Brisbane ferry terminal design competition

    On Thursday 4 August 2011 the winner of the Brisbane ferry terminal design competition was announced:

    Cox Rayner, Derlot, Aurecon

    The cutting-edge design integrates technical innovation, flood resilience and elegant form to deliver terminals that will be iconic features of our river city.

    The design:

    • features a single pontoon structure tethered to a single up-stream pier that deflects debris away from the pontoon
    • uses a gangway that can be detached, rotated and secured parallel to the pontoon in the event of a flood to avoid floating debris being trapped
    • delivers passengers a more direct engagement with the Brisbane river and its landscape
    • creates public places for travellers to enjoy which are ‘within’ the river, making it a place to inhabit as well as travel
    • is easily adapted to suit each terminal location
    • is ecologically sensitive, utilising recycled materials, solar collectors and water harvesting

    The winning consortium will be awarded a contract as consulting architect to the terminal rebuilding program and will work with Brisbane City Council throughout the process, with the construction process expected to begin by October 2011.


    In May 2011, the Queensland Government invited designers to submit expressions of interest for the rebuilding of several key Brisbane ferry terminals damaged during the floods in early 2011.

    The winning concept will be used across a number of key terminals, with the winning designer being awarded a contract to work with the Brisbane City Council as a design adviser.

    Expressions of interest were assessed by a panel of experts chaired by former Queensland architect Professor Phillip Follett that also includes representatives from the Australian Institute of Architects as well as Urban Futures. Government and local council representatives will also be involved as technical advisors.

    Shortlisted Entries

    On June 8 2011, the Premier announced the following three shortlisted finalists:

    Second Nature Collaborative

    (Candalpas Associates, Richards and Spence, Owen and Vokes, Arup)

    Designers Vision: The vision for the terminals responds directly to a detailed consideration of the aspirations of the brief. The ferry terminals are seen as enabling a re-reading of the river and as such, will generate a concurrent engagement of urban renewal with a legibility of that re-reading of the river as espoused by the project from the outset.

    From the shortlisted designer’s vision statement

    The proposal engages with the landscape in a manner that enables a reduction of ‘hardscape’ work whilst at the same time considers presently available attributes of that landscape. In this way, the extant landscape’s contours, ridges and geomorphology is used in a way that does not discharge its presence by way of the proposal; rather there is an observation-based approach that will enable the surfacing of hitherto unrealized or latent landscape potential for the benefit of the project.

    The character of each place considered as a priority, our vision will act to immediately enable the present character of the place to emerge and this concept, of itself will provide legibility.


    Winding back and forth across Brisbane in a classic meander, making pockets and elbows with high cliffs on one side and mud flats on the other, the River is inescapable. It cuts in and out of every suburb, can be seen from every hill… I know of no other city like it.

    David Malouf, “A First Place: The Mapping of a World”

    An ancient river meandering through a valley began its life millions of years ago with the movement of the Australian continent coming to rest near its current place. The shoreline of the Brisbane River has never existed as something permanent.

    Its flooding has always been a part of its making; its thinness and width dependent on where a fragile line of an edge may be apprehended; whether it is carved out from a sedimentary deposit or marked tenuously by low-lying mangroves. Today, the river merges with other flows; flows of traffic, of cyclists and pedestrians traversing its banks.

    It is essential to an architect to know how to see.
    I mean see in such a way that the vision is not overpowered by rational analysis
    Luis Barragan

    Our idea is embodied in thoughts of Brisbane’s natural and social history – which is visually and experientially connected by journeys along the Brisbane River. Brisbane is distinguished by its unique topography, derived from and defined by the serpentine path of the river.

    The river forms a valley through Brisbane’s centre; its tributaries and catchment defined Brisbane’s hilly suburban topography. Morphologically, the river is the primary connector of Brisbane’s pre-war urban and suburban precincts. Each reach and bend of the river is a unique landscape, delineated by varying terrain. Accordingly, each ferry stop has its own identity. The corresponding suburbs serviced by each stop are unique in character, built form, ethnicity, and topography. In an authentic way the river is a connector of well-loved Brisbane motifs: natural landscape formations and social spaces. Of primary importance is how the connection between Brisbane’s river (natural) and land (social) is made. Our proposal is to address the meeting of the natural and social in the Brisbane River at the landing places of ferry travel. There are special opportunities at the river’s edge.

    Shane Thompson Architects & Lat27 (with Bill Short Engineers)

    Designers Vision: Our proposition for the Brisbane River Ferry Terminals brings a distinctive poetic character and experience to a journey on the Brisbane River.

    From the shortlisted designer’s vision statement

    Our proposition seeks to make a family of unique places for the city, imbued with the history, nature, and cultural resonance of the river in Brisbane’s sub-tropical character.

    Our proposition creates a design narrative that appraises the environment of the river, which abstracts the landscape and hosts an emergent urban experience at the water’s edge.

    Our proposition seeks to create an exceptional and memorable experience, providing both a distinctive threshold episode and intimate sanctuary from the indefatigable energy of the city.

    Our proposition maximises reuse of existing assets, allows for flexibility in response to varying conditions and embeds substantially as a fundamental design tenet.

    Our proposition, which results from a detailed and rigorous analysis, testing and consideration of the sites, brief, program, budget, existing infrastructure, operation, buildability, safety and security, is underpinned by 10 key strategies which have been distilled from that work. These include:

    1. Maximise, if not reuse all existing structures: sustainability, cost, efficiency, and public responsibility demand this.
    2. Provide in situ rather than “bring to site in emergency” simple, robust, proven technology to ensure no flood damage to pontoons and gangways: this provides certainty, confidence, and independent control.
    3. Waiting platform design, materials and construction to be robust and allow for simple, low technology, cost effective, prefabricated and time efficient clean up and minimal, if any repair: these should need hosing out, soft repairs only with readily available non proprietary elements.
    4. Equitable access to be simple, direct, and flexible: our studies indicate that only 2 of the 7 terminals need special or extraordinary equity.
    5. Structures to be an adaptable lightweight system common to all but which allows a diverse response to each place; this will provide for prefabrication, an economy of scale, minimal need for heavy equipment, scaffold, high skills etc and can allow construction to be easily managed for maintenance of operation during construction.
    6. Ensure an “authentic”, distinctive and poetic character which responds to the riverside, littoral zone land and riverscape locations and their role as part of a memorable river transport experience: neither domestic, commercial or institutional, nor an equipment or overtly engineered aesthetic; make the everyday special
    7. A unique synthesis of landscape, riverscape, architectural, and engineering: each to inform and work symbiotically with the other.
    8. An ecological sensitivity which goes beyond a normalised sustainable design: a holistic approach bordering on bio mimicry.
    9. A wider and integrated urban place experience: considerate of views to and from sightlines, cyclists, pedestrians, other transport connections, pick up and ‘drop off’.
    10. Provide a safe, secure, hospitable, and connected community place: a pedestrian respite, an inclement weather shelter, a lovers’ refuge, a place of contemplation; wider use facilitates community ownership and better passive surveillance for a safer, lower maintenance “loved’” place.

    Cox Rayner, Derlot, Aurecon

    Designers Vision: The essence of our team’s proposal is to create connection between shoreline and ferry that is embraced by the Brisbane community and by visitors to the city as one of its iconic experiences.

    From the shortlisted designer’s vision statement

    This vision is coupled directly with a strategy that is inherently resilient to future flood impacts, is operationally efficient, safe and accessible to all, and which is economical in terms of established budget and recurrent / lifecycle costing.

    Our concept reduces the parts to a small range of elements that minimise maintenance and risk of failure.

    The beauty of our concept is its absence of complication combined with its clarity of function and richness of cultural experience. It is a concept for a terminal distilled into essential ingredients, with those ingredients shaped to perform multiple roles physically, operationally and aesthetically to define Brisbane as Australia’s subtropical river city.


    By Michael Rayner

    Having been a victim of the Brisbane flood in January 2011, I have spent much time contemplating the interface between the river and shoreline.

    It first occurred to me why private pontoons could simply float over their piers and out into the river torrent, and why they were not tethered in some way that retained them. There were many other observations that I made first hand as my house submerged, such as the varying impacts of debris and the sheer force of the current.

    For our approach to the new river terminals, it is our belief that the physical solution needs to be as simple as possible, that is, without complication in its response to future floods or potentially cyclones.

    We initially looked at an idea that pontoons could be towed by the Citycats away to safe waters in the period prior to the flood. However, there are a series of compelling reasons not to pursue this strategy, including:

    • should flood forecasting be inaccurate, there may be no real necessity to remove the pontoons;
    • Citycats would need expensive adaptation to be capable of guiding and moving the pontoons;
    • the Citycats, themselves may be of greater use in certain disaster conditions for other purposes, such as relocating people;
    • there are issues of maritime safety in endeavouring to move the pontoons and Citycats in periods where the currents have become stronger and unpredictable prior to the flooding.
    • Taking forward our thought about the private pontoons – that is, how simple it is to simply tether the pontoons – we decided to take a contrasting approach to the Citycat pontoons, with the following objectives being in our view the most important:

    Flood Mode

    • to create a system that secures the pontoons to their location while removing the need for the unsightly array of existing vertical pile types.
    • to enable the gangways to swivel around to the direction of the current thereby avoiding the build-up of debris.

    Traveller Experience

    • to create a unified suite of canopied pontoons which generate an easily recognised collective identity as Brisbane’s Citycat terminals
    • to facilitate an experience which enhances and enriches the Citycat and ferry journey for all types of traveller
    • to prioritise personal safety, real and perceived, as fundamentals of river transport day and night
    • to integrate the elements – fixed and mobile, signage, lighting and furniture – into a cohesive and holistic form

    Operational Efficiency

    • to ensure all berthing and moving operations are uncompromised, whatever the prevailing climatic conditions;
    • to ensure full compliance with Brisbane City Council ferry terminal specification;
    • to significantly improve the embarkation and disembarkation efficiency of the terminals, facilitating full unloading and loading of two simultaneous Citycats, from both the front and rear gates if required.

    For more information email:

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    Last updated:
    18 May, 2016
    Last reviewed:
    12 July, 2011