Flood-Resilient Brisbane Ferry Terminals

  • 2016

  • Architectural
    Place Design

Commissioned By:

Brisbane City Council

Designed In:


The new flood-resilient terminals are a world first in their design technology, resulting in many enquiries from overseas flood-prone cities. As satisfying is that they have engendered a radically enhanced experience of river travel, and have become an intrinsic part of the lexicon of Brisbane’s identity as a subtropical river city.

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  • Each of the bespoke-designed components of the new system of ferry terminals imparting them with future flood resilience is a benefit in itself. They combine to enable the terminals to withstand flood forces and to 'collapse' during a flood before returning to operable state immediately after a flood. The system is able to be utilised worldwide, creating benefits to water transport systems in many flood-prone cities. The system radically recasts how ferry terminals work in engineering terms, in particular, by: • Enabling the gangways to float and rotate around during a flood, allowing debris to draft through, and avoiding the destruction of the terminals caused by debris accumulation;

  • • Replacing multiple small piles with a single upstream pile that withstands large vessel collisions and precludes the pontoons floating off; • Facilitating the immediate post-flood return of the terminals to operation via the natural reverse flow of water. This latter attribute gives the key benefit of avoiding the loss of use of the ferry terminals post-flood which in Brisbane forced a year-long increase in vehicular traffic due to the loss of this critical part of the public transport system.

  • Although the brief prioritised finding a technological solution to future flood resilience, we designed the new system to dramatically enhance the experience of, and the attraction for people to use, river travel. Our idea was that the terminals should be more than (as previously) utilitarian pieces of transport infrastructure. They should be floating public spaces in the city, which people can enjoy at any time. This aim was enabled firstly by the removal of the need for multiple surrounding piles, so that the pontoons now enjoy unimpeded views across and along the river, and secondly by using this change to shelter the entire deck in a cantilevered canopy.

  • To add to the experience, we incorporated ramping within the pontoon so that it is a piece of topography rather than merely a flat deck. This facilitated incorporating different types of seating configuration, allowing groups to meet or individuals to enjoy quiet river solitude as desired.

    The architectural design of the new terminals creates a suite of highly identifiable floating river pavilions that has added to Brisbane's sense of self as Australia's subtropical river city. Despite the comparatively tiny individual scale of each terminal, compared to city buildings, the design imports a distinctive collective identity both to river travel, as an alternative to vehicular travel, and to Brisbane's civic and tourism image.

    The pontoon system is a modular one, devised to allow them to economically scale up or down for different numbers of berths and for storing moored ferries. However, in each case, the connections from the pontoons are strongly related to their particular contexts which differ dramatically - sometimes through mangroves, sometimes up cliff rises, or over cycleways or under freeways. These relationships have been designed to amplify the contexts in ways which have imparted a much enhanced sense of community belonging, as distinct from generic connections which existed with the previous terminals.

    The system we designed with our engineer Arne Nilsen of Aurecon and with Brisbane City Council is one which can be adapted to cities throughout the world to assist them to respond to environmental changes occurring particularly in the tropics. It is a strong example of Australian leadership in meeting the challenges of the future, and one which simultaneously humanises experience of transport infrastructure - more often than not the realm of utilitarian architecture. It is our hope that the public embrace of these terminals will encourage authorities elsewhere to view transport infrastructure as intrinsic and important to the experience of the urban environment.