The new ship lift at Niederfinow
Engineering marvel amazes visitors
The new ship lift currently being constructed by the Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration (WSV) at Niederfinow will be a spectacular technical structure in the immediate vicinity of two important historic monuments. Not only the dimensions of this unique structure amaze both professionals and interested members of the general public, but also the incredible engineering achievement behind these plans. The solution of the engineering task "construction of a mechanical lift" is the consummate achievement of this project. After all, it is the use of technology in overcoming the colossal lifting height of 36 metres which fascinates the numerous tourists and makes both the old and new ship lift a magnet for interested visitors.
The art of engineering - Made in Germany
The oldest working ship lift – once celebrated as a "major achievement of German technology" and still honoured today as the “trade mark of the art of engineering” – has demonstrated its strength and exemplary function for decades. The 75th anniversary in the year 2009 was also a subtile reminder of 75 years of trouble-free operation. Long-lasting, robust and, thus, enduring, it has become the epitome of reliability. The construction of the new ship lift will continue to honour the construction principle and safety concept of the old lift facility. The new lift will also be a counterweight lift and its safety concept is based on the same principle of an internally threaded column with a turning bolt.
Adventure ship lift
The main idea in "making technology tangible" and the wish to grant the visitor, as far as possible, direct access to the lifting procedure were critical design parameters for the architecture, the specialist contribution of the BAW. No attempt was even made to disguise the structure – with dimensions of 133 metres in length and more than 50 metres in height, this would be a pointless task anyway. No, this structure should stand tall, representing the magnificent piece of engineering that made the ship lift possible in the first place. The focus in all preparatory design work was always on the engineering concept. Using the supporting framework as a carrier system, the BAW then developed a design proposal which formed the basis for the further building construction and according to which the lift is now being constructed. The original ideas were discussed and optimised in an iterative process that involved all professional colleagues from the client side and from the consulting engineer firms in an interdisciplinary way.
Making movement visible
An important feature of the design is that it depicts the lifting procedure in its upwards movement through the vertical emphasis of the pylons. The lack of suggestion of upwards movement of the "ship elevator" which the Academy of the Arts in Berlin had criticised at the time of planning of the old ship life in 1934 is now clearly accentuated: the new ship lift is about “going up”. Or to express it academically: "form follows function" – the function is expressed in the form.
Designing with emotions
But that alone is not sufficient as a design principle. More than that, the BAW wishes to awaken enthusiasm and promote interest in the comprehensive topic of the art of engineering. So a second design principle is also consistently applied: "form follows emotion." The form of the structure is the result of an integrated planning process. This includes the development and depiction of details of the structure that go beyond classical engineering design.
It is a matter of course that the constructions of the WSV function to a very high standard. But mere fulfilment of a function is not enough. The emotional world of the visitor should also be addressed by incorporating emotional factors and expressing them in terms of structure and by gratifying the associated thought processes – all of this ensures a unique experience for the public. How can these goals be achieved in practice? For example, with the 40-metre-high galleries and bridges for visitors which allow a view of the lift chamber, the view into the glassed-in cable pulley hall with the huge cable pulleys and the large trussed girder with a viewing platform from which there is a magnificent view of the landscapes of the Oderbruch marshland.
The contours of the ship lift are dichotomous. Their inner lines are arranged orthogonally while the outer and inner contours play on the contrapposto theme from antique sculpture. Correspondingly, the internal, perpendicular lines represent the "engaged leg" whereas the varying inclinations of the outer lines suggest the "free leg". The inclination of the outer sides of the supports express the ease with which the lifting work of the ship lift is carried out. The counterweights and the trough are in a state of equilibrium. Merely the power equivalent to that of a motorised lawn mower is required to raise and lower the trough. This equilibrium is indicated by lines that merge towards a point. Poised in the landscape, the elegant downward taper of the structure leaves an unforgettable impression, making it so light that it is virtually dancing.
All these features are emotional contributions to architecture which creates identity. With its unique characteristics, the new ship lift will in future be a further highlight in the tourism concept of the administrative district of Barnim and its municipalities.
Mix of materials - concrete and steel
The practical implementation of the design for the supporting structure must exclusively abide by aspects of economy: the supporting elements – such as the cable pulley supports – are made of concrete, the ideal material for this purpose thanks to its great pressure resistance. The components that are carried, such as pulley bearers and the pulley hall, are made of steel – as light as possible, so as to minimise the own weight. A structure has been created with a mix of materials that is perfectly adapted to the statics requirements.
This combination of concrete and steel also necessitated specialist contributions from the BAW Sections B1 - in terms of solid structures, B2 - corrosion protection and hydraulic steel structures, B3 - concrete technology. In cooperation with Section K1, responsible for questions of foundation design, a full interdisciplinary, integrated consulting service is offered to the client WSV.
Interpreting the structure through colour
In addition to the separation of the tasks between concrete and steel, the colour concept also requires explanation. It is self-evident that concrete should look like concrete. The concrete has been contracted as facing concrete and will not receive a coating. The steel components on the other hand must be protected from corrosion and can be coated in different colours. The colour concept will also be used to provide visitors with a key in the form of colour elements to help them to understand how the ship lift works. There are certain colours for moveable parts, and for static parts and the smaller and more important a component is, the more intensive its colour will be. The predominant colours are the grey of the concrete and the steel or aluminium. In areas closer to visitors, blue and yellow are used.
A Landmark of the WSV
Architectural harmony was sought for as the guiding principle. Not only the ship lift itself complies with a specific architectural idea, but also the architecture of the other buildings such as the Visitor Centre and the safety gate do so. The basic design elements of the ship lift are echoed in those of the gate and the exhibition hall. By using the same contours and materials, the unity of the structures should become apparent: corporate design for the WSV location Niederfinow.