Kurilpa Bridge

Kurilpa Bridge is the world’s largest structure to be based upon the principles of ‘tensegrity’, the term coined by Richard Buckminster Fuller to describe a system of balanced compressive and tensile forces.

The architecture that this structure has generated has transformed Brisbane’s self-image, and its tourism identity, to that of a city of walking and cycling.

The strategy behind the exploration of tensegrity began at the national competition stage. It was during this stage that our architecture and engineering team recognised that conventional structures would not satisfy critical brief requirements – to span over Brisbane’s Riverside Expressway and to minimise impact on a park significant to indigenous people on the other side. Tensegrity minimised the deck thickness, thereby minimising ramp length down on that side, and it created a deceptively strong structure to span the expressway without change of system. The structure also spans the 120 metres of required navigational channel, while maintaining the scale of a pedestrian bridge.

A further source of inspiration for the tensegrity structure was the fact that its major contemporary exponent is an artist, the American sculptor Kenneth Snelson. The Kurilpa Bridge links the Brisbane CBD to the city’s Arts precinct, and it is frequently cited as the symbol of Brisbane’s focus upon linking art, science and engineering.

This relationship inspired the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art to site its newly acquired installation “We are shipwrecked and landlocked” by Scottish artist Martin Boyce on the entrance path to the bridge. The installation and the bridge, one an artwork and the other an architectural structure, both contain reference to the notion of a ‘collapsed landscape’, reinforcing the synergy between art and architecture.

Kurilpa Bridge is also experienced as a new piece of urban space within which are smaller urban spaces, and beyond which are other new urban spaces that the bridge has spawned. Although the bridge is in itself 360 metres long, it now connects approximately 1.5 kilometres of continuous pathway from South Brisbane, through the Arts precinct, across the river into the CBD, through a new Queensland justice precinct and city open space, known as Roma Street Parkland. This corridor is the largest unimpeded pedestrian and cycle way in Brisbane City Centre.

It is often said that people will create metaphors for unfamiliar structures; Kurilpa Brisbane has been no exception. Its nautical references are relatively obvious, however it has also been considered analogous to the spokes of bicycle helmets which Brisbane cyclists wear to deter diving birds, to an upside down spider, and even to a dance frozen in time. These metaphors illustrate the extent to which the public imagination has been sparked by the bridge design.

Resolution of the bridge entailed Arup in extensive computer and physical modelling from Australia to New York and London. The modelling information was transmitted back to Brisbane where continuous adjustments were made to refine angles of members, junctions, the deck edges and the canopy which acts in pure tensegrity throughout the length of the bridge. Solar photovoltaics along the canopy roof generate all of the power required for lighting the bridge including LED lighting that changes its colour and is synchronised for major events.

Kurilpa Bridge plays a significant role in the lives of Brisbane’s aboriginal people as it is sited (coincidentally) at the point on the river where the ancestors were able to cross the Brisbane River between the northern to southern lands. The two most relevant tribes – the Turrbal and Jagera – were continuously consulted on the bridge design, this process gaining significant endorsement.

Kurilpa Bridge is also the culmination of our twenty year collaboration between Cox Rayner Architects and Arup, our mutual knowledge and respect enabling conceptualisation beyond our individual thought processes.


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