The costs of improvement: Harbour construction with minimum side-effects



Kjartan Langvad, Board of Directors, Pihl & Søn A.S., Denmark


Since the beginning of dawn, intelligent life has evolved along the waterways of the globe. Man eventually used his experience from nature’s harbours to create his own. In the beginning of this 3rd millennium, the ever extensive use of existing, man-made harbours has put forward the issue of special demands concerning the subject of harbour extension.

Key-role: The Design-and-Build contractor

Any professional harbour authority or owner, of course, constantly evaluates the requirements put on his Harbour. These range from a mere rise in numbers or tonnage, through decisions to expand existing activities, and furthermore, the needs to offer new services. Frequently, long term strategies lay the foundation for projects which are not quite in tune with the harbour of today.

A wide and very qualified range of institutions, organisations and companies serve owners and harbour authorities well within almost every imaginable area, thus, meeting all kinds of needs, as well as contributing to both specific developments and evolving visionary trends. They are all very recommendable for a gamut of reasons; not only from economic and scientific points of view; and all are needed.

In a very real and competitive world, we must, however, when speaking about harbour extensions, also focus on the construction process. The focus is not so much on the fact that a project is untaken, but much more, on the way the project is undertaken and completed.

Hand in hand: Harbour and contractor

The ideal process, starting with the owner’s clear definition of his objectives, is creating the right technical project. But, as we all need to acknowledge, there is no such thing as the right technical project.

Too often, a specific project design is brought forward as ‘the solution’, and a good solution it often is. But is it the right solution? We, as Civil Engineers, calculate the forces, based on models for the waves, the wind, the sediment movements and more. The forces taken into account might also include dynamic situations such as earthquakes, ice, accidents, container loads, moving equipment and more.

Our capability to perform advanced calculations in almost any thinkable field seems to be boundless. But the real test is the choices we make. This is where the Design-and-Build contractor is needed.

Priority: Accept and respect the actual site

Nothing in the real world compares to reality. Many good, even outstanding designs, have failed when ‘implanted’ into the actual location. This is why the contractor must be able to offer his experience at the time when choices have to be made, because he can bring to the project, and the process, results from his company’s 1:1 scale ‘tests’, stemming from previous projects. Unlike all the calculations in the world, his results stem from empirical ‘trials.’ He also knows that no two harbour projects in the world are alike.

In the theoretical world, with all its qualifications, ‘different’ projects could be designed alike.

Logically, since two projects are not alike, something more in this phase is needed. Thus enters the contractor introducing and offering in this phase, all of his empirical and other experiences.


Since it is in this phase, the ‘intelligence of the waterways’ must be put into use.

It is not the aim of this article to theorise and systemise the various demands, considerations or even conflicting requirements. But it is a fact, that having set out with a contractor, whose expected completion on time and on budget is a prerogative, the project, and thereby the owner, is by far, better served by having incorporated the experiences from countless realised projects.

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