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Infrastructure stories

Floating pier is thoughtfully radical

Issue 147 Morris Nunn

Australia’s first major floating building is poised to add a new dimension to Hobart’s evolving waterfront – and it could be the first of several, according to its designer, Robert Morris-Nunn.

The building will be constructed off-site and the two major contractors, Incat Tasmania and Fairbrother, have started work on the pontoon and superstructure, respectively.

“It’s a really innovative design and innovative building, which we are confident will not only be economically sustainable, it’s environmentally sustainable (and) is going to be a real attraction for people to come to,” the Chairman of the Brooke Street Development Corporation, Scott Ashton-Jones, said.

The glass conservatory-style building will have retail, dining and office space as well as modern ferry facilities.

A floating 3,500-tonne concrete pontoon will support the three-storey building.

Enormous air bags will be inflated under the structure, enabling it to be towed to its Brooke Street location.

Mr Morris-Nunn told The Mercury that the project could be a template for the reinstatement of Hobart’s historic piers which have been dismantled over the decades.

“If you do one, you can do more than one and actually reinstate the piers as floating structures,” he said.

As well as his celebrated work on the Saffire Resort at Coles Bay, Mr Morris-Nunn has significantly influenced Hobart’s modern environment through the Henry Jones Art Hotel, Macquarie Wharf Sheds 1 and 2, Princes Wharf No 1 and Mawson’s Hut.

He said he had taken his cue for the floating building’s design from the existing Elizabeth Street Pier, using the same roofline, colour scheme and building materials where possible.

He had taken the same approach in redesigning two sheds on Macquarie Street Wharf.

“They look like they’re part of a family, even though they … have different interiors and uses,” he said.

While some local architects argue that this is a “safe” approach to design, Mr Morris-Nunn said it was better than the alternative where “heroic” buildings jostle each other for attention.

“The waterfront here is a cove and if you have these heroic buildings when you see it with all the rest of them, they end up screaming at each other and it devalues the whole, and I think that’s sad.”

“I value old buildings and all the stories that are part of these old buildings.

“Those stories are the cultural fabric of the place and if you can pass them on, generation to generation, that’s really nice.”

The Brooke Street Pier received $5 million from a $50 million Federal Government package for the development of the Macquarie Point railyards.

Private investors are matching the Federal contribution and Mr Morris-Nunn believes this to be a good precedent for public-private projects in Tasmania.

Meanwhile, the Chief Executive of Business Events Tasmania, Stuart Nettlefold, is lobbying to have a major function centre incorporated in the Macquarie Point development.

Mr Nettlefold is convinced Hobart needs a new convention centre to compete with other cities for large-scale business events.

He said business events were bringing $100 million a year into Tasmania’s economy, with about 35,000 people attending business functions in the State each year.

About 25 per cent of delegates bring a partner and most are described as “high yielding” visitors.

Mr Nettlefold said the railyards development could support Tasmania’s growing science, medical, and arts sectors, providing a first-class venue for visiting experts to host events.

“This is a 10 to 20-year vision,” he said. “We need to start thinking about it now to ensure Tasmania is in the mix in the longer term.”

Mr Nettlefold said his organisation did not have the funding for a feasibility study, but a spokesperson for the Macquarie Point Development Corporation said such a study was not within the scope of its budget and would expose the organisation to similar requests from other industry groups.

The Chief Executive of the Tourism Industry Council Tasmania, Luke Martin, supported the idea of a Government-funded feasibility study.

He said a new convention centre on the railyards site would help boost visitor numbers in quieter winter months.

“It’s the one site on the waterfront you could get a significant scale development, a 200-plus room [hotel] and conference or event space,” Mr Martin said.

“Government has made questionable decisions on waterfront sites in the past and, really, the railyards is the only significant site left to do something like this.”

12 March 2014, Issue 147

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