The entire Partridge office again downed tools for a morning and took some time out to do our annual Sculptures by the Sea walk. Starting at the Bondi end, we took the leisurely stroll around to the Tamarama end and back, finishing off with a filling brunch and restorative coffee!
Partridge is closely involved with SxS each year, providing engineering advice, design, and certification for exhibits that are deemed to require structural engineering input. This usually involves wind analysis to assess and check the sculpture won’t blow over or fly away (holding some of the lighter sculptures down is a major consideration), or looking at strength requirements for certain pieces. Public safety is also a major component of our work, ensuring that pieces won’t collapse or break off under misuse (skylarking and misadventure needs to be taken into account when it comes to public art).
This year’s SxS exhibition got off to a slightly shaky start when a king tide and strong waves from storm activity both coincided to bring water up onto Tamarama beach to levels and depths that had never been seen in 20 years, resulting in damage or loss to a number of pieces that were on the beach. (For the record, Partridge had no involvement with those particular pieces!) However, it brought home and demonstrated a rather interesting issue that often plays out during the design or construction of buildings…
Builders and architects can often get frustrated with engineers when structural elements are sized for seemingly unlikely design loads or events. Accusations of over-design or conservative thinking often get thrown at the engineering industry. And yet, at the end of the day, the design codes we work to dictate that structures have to be designed for the “one in a hundred year flood” or the “one in a hundred year wind”. Yes, this occasionally results in structures being designed for unlikely events. However, as SxS demonstrated, these unlikely events can and do happen. The sculptures were put on the beach because waves had never been experienced in that location in the twenty year history of the exhibition. Wave loading was not seen as a risk or a design action to be accounted for. But just because the wave loading had never been seen before, doesn’t it mean it will never happen!