The Gap and Natural Bridge

Department of Parks and Wildlife WA: The critical constraints of design in national parks are multifaceted with many unseen complexities. Landscape architectural responses in these settings are transfixed with site, driven by the experiential and often governed by socio-political ambitions including the provision of ‘drawcard’ facilities for tourism. At The Gap and Natural Bridge in Torndirrup National Park, Albany, the redevelopment sought to create a spectacular and rewarding visitor experience whilst responding to visitor risk, a need to increase visitor capacity and improve their access, overcome a confronting construction environment and address a highly corrosive coastal setting.

© DPaW

A key tourism attraction for the Albany area, the sites previous 3m wide platforms and narrow paths failed to cater for 240,000 visits each year. This left the uninitiated endangering themselves seeking the perfect viewing angle and a heightened experience amid a site often characterised by rough oceans, high winds, sea spray and slippery gneiss and granodiorite rock subject to fall and collapse. Several serious injuries and deaths have occurred. Designed to balance risk with reward and conscious of sanitisation resulting from increased infrastructure, the project conceived a network of pathways grafted to site culminating in two secure cantilevered structures. At The Gap this enables visitors to experience an encounter in space beyond the precipice standing 37 metres above the crashing ocean below. Negotiating the tension between the presence of an alien structure and a sublime landscape is paramount. The structures need to embody both subtlety and confidence in order to succeed. They aim to intervene but to exude only thoughtful and careful curation of the tourists, elderly, ambulant, disabled and interested families across the site.

Augmenting access across the irregular and rugged nature of the features required a responsive built form where detail was as critical above finished floor level as it was below. Considered interfaces with the site ranged from duplex 2205 stainless steel rock anchors to rebates highlighting rock form and character. Constructability was central to design and project planning essential to have a ‘tourism ready product’ immediately after construction. Retrieval, storage and propagation of vegetation, placement of a temporary construction access track and repurposing boulders preserved the rock surface and re-established vegetation communities. Existing disturbed areas were used in preference and old infrastructure removed and site rehabilitated. Establishing a pedagogical relationship between the landscape architecture team, the engineering team, the interpretation team and local trades was essential. Mutual professional benefit translated into a highly considered response to site and brief. More than 140,000 locals, interstate and international tourists have visited since reopening in April 2016 feeding an unsolicited social media response. The site has again been embraced by those visiting and promoted by local businesses for its enrichment of the national park experience.

Data

Principal Landscape Architecture and Architectural Design, Sign Design, Construction Supervision: Department of Parks and Wildlife WA
Client and Internal Project Management: Department of Parks and Wildlife WA
Structural, Civil and Geotechnical Engineering. Construction Management: GHD Pty LtdConstruction, BGC Construction
Contract Management: Building Management and Works WA (Department of Finance)
Location: Torndirrup National Park, Albany, Western Australia
Design Year: 2013 / 2014
Year of Construction: 2015 / 2016
Area: 3600m²
Budget: $5.1million AUD (construction)

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