Finalist 2021

Tread Lightly

Anthony Jongen / Swinburne University of Technology / Colcac Otway Shire / Surf Coast Shire

An eco-conscious modular boardwalk system accommodating unimpeded vegetation growth and sustainable tourism practices in the Great Ocean Road region.

This project aims at future-proofing and protecting the natural beauty of the Great Ocean Road from excessive tourist visitation, through the creation of immersive and meandering pathways that minimises the impact of foot-traffic on the natural surroundings.

The modular boardwalk system avoids vegetation damage caused by rogue visitors who nonchantly trample their way through delicate ecologies. Vegetation growth is supported underneath the boardwalk through open grating and overall small footprint.

The non-permanent anchoring system encourages pathways to be re-routed over time to allow for habitat regeneration where it once lay and to create sustained tourist interest in year on year.

Design Brief

The aim of this project is to create a new method of tourism exploration which has the capacity to extend tourist numbers across a variety of new, yet potentially vulnerable, destinations along the Great Ocean Road. This solution should aim to create an immersive experience to visiting tourists, as well as adding value to the lives of local residences and the local community.

It should stimulate growth in local economies and encourage tourists to stay in said areas for longer periods of time, but do so in an environmentally responsible manner. The final design should be one which strongly reflects a ‘tread lightly’ approach to the problem, and one where environmental conservation is at the forefront of the design.


This project was developed by:

Design Process

As a final year thesis project, the design process has been extensive. A literature review, citing peer-reviewed journal articles was undertaken to understand the effects of tourism on coastal environments, as well as identifying a framework for shifting tourism towards a regenerative approach.

When the effects of foot traffic on vegetation was clearly identified, primary research was undertaken to identify how users were interacting with the natural environment around them when travelling on foot. Ethnographic observational research at key high-volume walking tracks, as well as data mining on Instagram was undertaken.

The aim was to gain an understanding of which areas people were visiting, where they were coming from and for what purpose they were visiting. As well as this, valuable insights were gained regarding what attracted them to the region. This helped greatly in understanding what patterns and movements of the visitors were contributing to the unsustainable tourist practices in the region.

Interviews were conducted to gain more detailed insight into a variety of regular users of walking trails to identify what their current habits were and what their views on what impact excessive visitation is having on the landscape. Interviews with tourism coordinators and economic development coordinators from the Surf Coast Shire and Colac Otway Shire were conducted to gain their perspective on what problems the region is currently facing on tourism and environmental fronts.

Through extensive ideation, material investigation and prototyping, feasible ideas were crafted into concepts which met the design brief. With sustainability at the forefront of the design, rigorous assessment and concept critique was regularly undertaken to ensure the project stayed true to the ideals of the brief, not only meeting them but surpassing them.

Design Excellence

A boardwalk system was chosen to execute the design brief as it provides access to the region in a self-paced manner. Immersion is key in creating memorable tourist experiences, and through drawing tourists to within touch of the nature they would otherwise drive by unassumingly, there is opportunity to educate them better as to the fragility of the landscape and results of their actions.

In keeping with immersion, the boardwalks are designed to have a low profile (under 1 metre) to avoid the need for handrails which retract visually from the beauty of the landscape. Boardwalks as a means of helping users reach a destination, can be routed to take visitors off the Great Ocean Road and into the hinterland regions. As well as this, they are free to be embraced by local residents also.

The boardwalks are designed to be narrow, only one-metre wide, to direct traffic in a one-way direction. This is to prevent congestion in popular areas, reducing the desire for users to circumnavigate the pathway to avoid other users blocking the pathway.

With such large focus placed on protecting vegetation while in use, the installation process must be designed to be equally as delicate. Through material choice and engineering, structural members which carry the most weight have been broken into manageable sizes so that installation is possible without any heavy machinery. As this has been considered, the boardwalk can be systematically installed so that each new module can be carried over what has previously been installed and then lowered into place.

This removes the threat of workers trampling wildlife in the installation phase by carrying equipment and componentry back and forth. This is an installation method which when considered in the design phase, can be modelled when constructing a variety of new infrastructure in delicate environments.

Design Innovation

The 'tread-lightly' boardwalk system has been designed to reduce the number of anchor points per module. In comparison to regular boardwalks which require four corner posts per module, this system requires only two central pylons which not only provides users with a 'floating' feel due to the cantilevered edges, but also reduces the boardwalks amount of contact with the ground.

Reducing the boardwalk's overall footprint is a key in preventing habitat fragmentation which often occurs as a result of regular boardwalk and pathway installations. Furthering this point, it increases the openness of the underside of the pathway, once again assisting continual vegetation growth.

Reusable screw-pile anchors were chosen to secure the boardwalk as this means that the pathway is completely removable; to encourage regeneration of plant life if struggling where the pathway was. Traditional foundations such as concrete reduces future flexibility and disrupts surface vegetation during installation. Using screw-pile anchors means that no pre-digging of holes is necessary, and light machinery as opposed to large diggers can be used for installation.

To increase immersiveness in the experience, modules which meander left and right were designed, as well as modules which undulate up and down. This is to mirror the natural curvature of the landscape users are crossing, and by designing support joists which are adjustable in height, the boardwalk has the flexibility to be acutely adjusted to respond to subtle bumps and valleys.

Finally, no chemical or bonded fastenings are used in its construction. By only using mechanical fastenings, it means that the boardwalk system can easily be removed in small sections, ideal for replacement and repair, if damage occurs. This was carefully considered for the transportation and installation phases, where modules can be pre-assembled and carried into place or instead be assemble on-site, where the surroundings are particularly delicate.

Design Impact

The outcome of this project is one which is beneficial at the triple bottom line. It has the capacity to create positive change for people, planet and profit. The implementation of these boardwalk systems caters for growing tourist visitation and can successfully diffuse them across a larger region of the GOR. It can generate new interest in the region, as well as sustaining existing interest year-on-year through carefully planned pathway re-routing.

The benefits for planet are evident, through placing environmental needs at the forefront of the design it provides access to areas of outstanding beauty and environmental significance without impacting the fragile ecology of the area(s). Open grating surfaces creates translucency in the design, supporting vegetation growth underneath pathways.

Reduced anchor points prevents habitat fragmentation and the option of complete removal and re-routing allows for habitat regeneration if the pathways existance is negatively effective vegetation health. This all in addition to the boardwalk serving as a route for tourist traffic, keeping them from trapling vegetation along major tourist sights.

Creating a slowpaced attraction means that visitors are kept in the region for longer. This creates benefit for local business where visitors are much more inclined to purchase a meal or even stay an extra night in the region if their visitation time is increased by as little as 2-3 hours through engaging with these boardwalk systems.

Aas the project comes into fruition the intend is to collaborate with original land custodians to express their culture through the boardwalks. Whilst being consulted during the route-planning phase to avoid interference with culturally sacred sites, members of traditional tribes in the GOR region will be commissioned to create artworks which will then be translated into perforated walkway panels, reflecting a 'welcome to country' as visitors pass from one tribal region to the next.

Circular Design and Sustainability Features

For Tread Lightly, considerations of longevity, reuse, re-purposing, materiality and design for assembly/ disassembly have been key. The design responds to demands of extreme weather conditions to ensure it can survive over the long-term and, at end of life, be re-purposed or reclaimed. As the boardwalk system will be present in the public domain, as well as being exposed to harsh outdoor climates, materiality choice was large based on factors of longevity.

The structural members of the boardwalk- the support joists, pylons and runners are contructed from corten steel. The choice of an unsealed raw steel material provides multiple benefits relating to sustainability. Corten steel has a resistance to atmospheric corrosion by creating a protective patina on the surface, creating a stunning dark orange/brown appearance which immerses the structure into its surroundings.

Aside from visual benefits, corten is 100% recyclable, and is commonly made from pre or post-consumer steel. This means that it has already been given a second chance at life through being included in the boardwalk's design.

The assembly process of the boardwalk has been considered so that each component is made of only one material. This means that components are easily re-purposed after use as a top priority, and if not feasible to do so, can be recycled and given new life. An effort to reduce the number of parts in the assembly not only reduces cost and energy in manufacturing, but also reduces assembly/ disassembly time. Incorporating multiple features into one component however, has not reduced the modularity of the boardwalk system.

All components can be independently removed without disrupting the overall integrity of the boardwalk as a whole. This means that grating panels, supports and pylons can be replaced over time when damaged, again assisting design for longevity measures.

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