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The Bolte marks 20 years over Docklands waters

03 Sep 2019

The Bolte marks 20 years over Docklands waters Image

By Alex Dalziel

August 16 marked the 20th anniversary of the official opening of the Bolte Bridge.

Since opening in 1999, the iconic twin cantilever bridge has served as the main passageway between Melbourne’s western suburbs, as well as a visually impressive landmark on the Docklands skyline.

Construction of the bridge took place between 1996 and 1999, with designers Hyder/ MBK and Denton Corker Marshall drawing up the original design, with construction by Baulderstone Hornibrook.

The “mega project” style effort in which the bridge was built was highly ambitious for the time, which also saw a revamp of the Citylink and would create one streamlined passageway right through to Docklands.

Director at Denton Corker Marshall Neil Bourne worked as a junior architect on the projects at the time and said that the design was born out of its competitive tender process.

“The Citylink tender had been undertaken and apparently the feedback to the tendering team was that their urban design needed to be improved,” he said.

Denton Corker Marshall was approached by Transurban, which was vying for the tender, and was asked to enhance the proposal with a strong urban design portfolio.

“We suggested that the bridge was perhaps a bit ordinary and Transurban agreed. We worked on a proposal on the bridge and on a Melbourne gateway.”

The team worked on designs and the coloured steel beam “sticks” that tilt over the Tullamarine freeway simultaneously. Mr Bourne said that these designs were made to be passed through as a sequence, with the sticks on the Tullamarine and the sticks on the Bolte Bridge relating to each other.

“We had to think of a unique way of making the Citylink visually impressive, I think the initial brief for the project just said, ‘create a gateway to the city’,” Bourne said.

The design process was surprisingly quick. A few days after Denton Corker Marshall was approached by Transurban the tender had already been put in, leaving a small window of opportunity to come up with an urban design.

By the time the architects had been put on the bridge, construction had been more or less finished, leaving the firm to think about ways of making the bridge visually impressive without changing the bridge itself.

This is where the idea for the two now iconic towers sticking up in the middle of the bridge came from.

“In the original concept, the sticks were actually higher,” Mr Bourne said.

“We couldn’t change the bridge itself so we used red triangles and rectangular sticks, reduced them to their most simplest geometric forms and picked out red to help the colour stick out.”

Designers thought that the bridge looked to sparse and needed more scale, particularly more height.

“People often say that the towers don’t do anything structurally, but we argue that they do a hell of a lot visually,” Mr Bourne said

“As you drive across the bridge the towers mark the first time you reach the bay from the Citylink and the bridge’s highest point, making it a threshold. From around the city, particularly when there weren’t as many towers around, it served as an urban marker.”

Since then, the Bolte has established its identity as one of Melbourne’s two iconic large bridges, adding to the diversity of urban design that can be found throughout Docklands, and Melbourne in general.

“We have a saying, icon status is something that is earned. You can’t grab it, it is bestowed upon you, so we have been fortunate to work on design projects that have become iconic,” Mr Bourne said.

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