Giant Shark Gills Breathe Life Into Cairns Aquarium Building

1st July 2016

The FKG Group and local subcontractors marked a new construction milestone on Friday, July 1 with the arrival and erection of the first exterior precast wall panels.

The unique custom designed and fabricated “Shark Gill” overlapping feature exterior walls were dual lifted into place by the site’s tower crane as well as a ground based mobile crane. In a difficult manoeuvre, the tower crane raised each concrete precast wall vertically in the air while the mobile crane moved each panel diagonally titled and then lowered it into its final position on the site perimeter. With the arrival of the exterior precast wall panels, the Cairns Aquarium ground floor will start rising up and fulfil its architectural intent as a “living-breathing-building” design.

Made in Cairns from steel reinforced concrete, the 200mm thick custom shaped walls have been fabricated offsite throughout the month of June and will be positioned in stacks of panels by a team of around 12 workers. A total of 154 ground floor panels will be installed over the next few weeks with the typical panel sized at 6 metres tall and 3 metres wide and weighing up to 13 tonnes, requiring a high level of construction expertise and skill throughout the process.

Importantly for Cairns and North Queensland, the significant supply contract to manufacture and install the precast walls was won by local business Plos Constructions, showcasing the region’s capability to manufacture complex infrastructure at nationally competitive prices.

Cairns Aquarium Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Daniel Leipnik, said the installation of exterior walls was an exciting event for the project.

“It is a momentous day to have worked on the project for almost five years and to now see the exterior walls arriving to site and being installed. It’s one thing to see the design on computer-generated models but it’s a whole other experience when these very unique panels go in and you realise an iconic attraction is taking shape,” Mr Leipnik said.

Cairns Aquarium Co-Founder Andrew Preston said: “The folded design of the Florence Street exterior panels, or ‘gills’, draws inspiration from the region’s connection with its unique aquatic biodiversity of The Great Barrier Reef.

“The overlapping exterior panel concept was actually designed by our architectural team at Peddle Thorp Architects in Melbourne and then structurally designed by the Brisbane based project Structural Engineering team at Cardno. It was in response to our vision for an iconic, modern, museum-like, and state-of-the-art facility that would add a standout and unique landmark to the Cairns CBD.”

FKG Group Project Manager, Mark Pengilly, said Plos Constructions had been engaged to construct the precast wall panels to meet the strict specification requirements and intricate details of design and co-ordination of the cranes, to ensure a safe and efficient installation.

“The construction team is working closely with nearby businesses to ensure minimal disruption during the installation process, while ensuring the safety of workers and the public,” he said.

Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch, who is an avid supporter of the Cairns Aquarium, said he was looking forward to seeing the exterior walls being erected on Friday.

“Every time I drive past the site and see the construction activity, I’m incredibly impressed by the commitment and capability of Daniel, Andrew and their team in getting the project to this point,” he said.

“They had a vision, they’re making it happen, and it’s going to be a game-changer in creating jobs and strengthening our tourism offerings. I congratulate them for showing what can be achieved when people have confidence to invest in our beautiful city.”

Upon completion, the Cairns Aquarium & Reef Research Centre and its aquatic themed restaurant complex are expected to attract over 500,000 visitors per year and create 80 full-time jobs in the Aquarium and 50 positions within the restaurant. The construction project remains on track for completion in April 2017.

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