Our firm was approached by a developer who held a large parcel of beachside land in Wollongong, south of Sydney NSW, and Development Application approval to build an over-55s complex with an integrated mix of lifestyle apartments and care-centre accommodation. The proposed facility was explicitly contemporary and highly responsive to local community needs. The architectural vision was appealing and impressive – buildings of up to eight storeys high in a fan-like array, maximising the uninterrupted ocean views across the golf course and beaches without dominating the skyline.
For the developer, the only serious concern had become that several engineers had looked at the project but none had advised how the approved design could be built on the land economically. Being almost right on the beachfront, the land constituted little more than the leeside of a sand dune area with inherent soft ground and high water-table issues. Between the grassy-looking surface from which buildings were planned to arise, and the only real terra firma found deep beneath the surface, the ground consistency was euphemistically referred to as ‘porridge’.
It was one of the more interesting challenges I’d faced in my career as an engineer. None of the typical approaches would have been efficient. For example, to anchor the buildings to bedrock by piles, the building height would have remained fixed while the water table rose and fell around the buildings, risking potential inundation of the lower storeys. To raise the ground floor levels higher than architecturally specified would have sacrificed one or two storeys of accommodation due to overall height restrictions, thus rendering the project unfeasible. Notwithstanding, the high cost of any solution involving piles to such great depth would have threatened the viability of this project.
I pondered the whole conundrum for a while, visualising the matter and forces at play. It wasn’t long before I had one of those Eureka! moments as an engineer – a lateral solution which I knew would solve this particular problem efficiently, practically, and cost-effectively. The buildings would float on a veritable raft, rising and falling along with the water table below and ground level around them, evenly and imperceptibly remaining in continual self-adjustment to environmental changes over the complex’s lifespan. The foundations would in effect float as well, but not as conventional piles, more like toothpicks. Rather than trying to maintain contact with bedrock, there could be no chance of these floating foundations coming into contact with bedrock or the structures could tilt.
Of course, any radical or unconventional solution to a problem is bound to attract some degree of disbelief and opposition. Fortunately for the developer in this instance, once the fundamental roadblock to construction had been lifted by engineering innovation, not even cynicism could stand in the way of the project finally going ahead. After years of costly delays and uncertainties while it looked as if the development couldn’t be built as envisaged, or completed as profitably as needed, the combined engineering and project management solutions of Costin Roe Consulting brought about successful project completion within just 15 months of construction commencement.
Today, the Links Seaside is widely regarded as the ‘ultimate in over 55s living’, an elegant beachside retirement community with sweeping golf course and ocean views, surrounded by tranquil water features, walkways and recreation areas. There are 154 lifestyle apartments and 153 care-centre suites in the complex which stands right on the fringe of Wollongong’s CBD, yet only metres from the golf course and beachfront. Onsite facilities include a-la-carte restaurant, bar and café, day spa and beauty room, gym, aquatic centre, tennis court, BBQ facilities, visitor parking and much more.
Costin Roe Consulting is proud of our association with the Links Seaside project and contributions made to its ultimate success and popularity. Links Seaside still sets one of the highest benchmarks for community-oriented developments of this nature, where retirement can mean the freedom of downsizing and immediate enhancement of active lifestyle enjoyment, together with peace of mind should any change in day-to-day residential needs ever eventuate. Costin Roe continues to offer professional assistance with structural and civil engineering requirements in the Wollongong and south coast NSW area from an office that’s conveniently located within the Wollongong CBD.
SIZE: two eight-storey residential towers and one four-storey aged care facility building, built off a 13,000m2 suspended post-tensioned concrete podium slab | VALUE: $60m | DURATION: 15 months | COMPLETION: July 2008