Parting the Land from the Sea – A Story of Reinforced Concrete & Revit 

Dan Peticila Dan Peticila November 7, 2022

6 min read

Sea trade has been one of the most important domains of commerce, dating back to 5,000 years ago, when the first major trade routes were set along the Arabian Sea. Back then, small wooden ships were used to carry goods. Fast-forwarding through history to present day, ships of over 400 m (1,300 ft.) navigate the World’s oceans and seas and one can only imagine the logistics required for loading and unloading them. Hence, larger and better equipped port terminals were built. Still, the ever-growing interconnectivity for better and more efficient supply chains means that even these structures have to be, at one point, updated. But rest assured, this is not a blog post about maritime trade, so let’s see what has Revit and its reinforcement capabilities have to do with all of this. 

The Europa Terminal from Port of Antwerp (Belgium) was built in the 1980s, with its original scope to expand the port’s capacity and to speed up the docking time by 4 to 6 hours. It spans across 72 hectares (178 acres) and has a 1,200 m long reinforced concrete quay. This year, the Port of Antwerp together with the terminal operator PSA Antwerp are planning to rebuild the quay wall and to make it deeper, such that the largest ships, up to 16 m deep, can dock here.  

Port of Antwerp

The engineering office commissioned with this outstanding project is Tractebel, an international company, with Belgian roots, providing worldwide life-cycle consultancy and engineering in power, nuclear, water and infrastructure for national and international institutions and customers in public or private markets. As Filip Mortelmans MSc. Eng., Project Manager for Tractebel said, they decided to use Revit to model everything and do the rebar detailing, as they were dealing with a large reinforced concrete civil structure where precision, productivity and performance are key. 

Render view of the concrete structure of the quay wall
Render view of the concrete structure of the quay wall, alongside transoceanic cargo ships

The figures are impressive. The quay wall is made of over 2000 reinforced concrete piles, interconnected by an 11 m high massive pile cap, poured in multiple stages, spanning across 1,200 meters. There are three main types of piles: 336 of them are made of 2.1 m diameter steel pipes going 34 m deep, filled with concrete reinforced with complex rebar cages. An additional 43 piles following the same principle are 1.63 m diameter and 28 m deep. To back them up against the strong force of the sea, behind them sit 1623 cast-in-place reinforced concrete compression piles, each of them 0.56 m diameter and 28 m deep. It is expected up to 19,500 metric tons of reinforcement steel to be required for the entire quay wall. 

3D views of the rebar modelled in Revit

According to Filip de Clercq, Senior Consultant for Tractebel, all the rebar detailing, including bar bending schedules and the reinforcement plans are made using Revit’s standard capabilities, customized for this project’s specific needs, like color-coded bars for easy identification, rebar tags matching the color of the bars and tag types automatically changing depending on the bar’s type and role. He made the switch from 2D drafting in AutoCAD Structural Detailing years ago, anticipating the complexity of the projects he would work on and the tight delivery schedules, for which Revit, as a mature BIM platform, proved to be the right way to go. 

2D Views and Sheets produced in Revit
Autodesk Docs provided a common environment for project data and documents
Revit Cloud Worksharing allowed model-based coordination and collaboration for project stakeholders

Model changes are easily incorporated by leveraging the highly parametric nature of families and arrays, for example the geometrical characteristics of the concrete piles and of the steel sheet piles. So, many design modifications can be typically incorporated by changing parameter values that make the whole model automatically adjust, updating the reinforcement as well.

Michiel Bienens, the Design Engineer responsible mainly for the crane beams and their supports, wanted to bring even more automation into play, so he created Dynamo scripts for automated clash controls for the piles, considering their very large number and others for better managing the objects that needed to be included in the demolition phases. The temporary concrete fills have also been automatically reinforced with the help of Dynamo. One more significant contribution of Dynamo was in automatically sketching the ground surface, considering how many phases requiring ground movement this project has. 

All our investments in Revit’s model performance, especially those focused on reinforcement visualization and constraints from the past couple of releases, convinced Tractebel to model everything in one single model and link to it only the drawings showing the quay wall in the general context of the port it is part of. Bringing data from the Civil 3D model ensured a perfect alignment with the existing infrastructure. Firstly, Civil 3D was used to create the bathymetric chart, based on underwater survey data. Then, this was combined with the existing LIDAR data for the structure above the sea level. Finally, this full set was transformed into a terrain model in Civil 3D and then exported to Revit. 

General layout plans, including the terrain model and a bathymetric chart

Revit’s phasing capabilities played an important role too, not just for the typical project management scenarios and handling the temporary structures, but also for helping Port of Antwerp achieve its goal of turning the sustainable design of the new Europa Terminal into reality. Because ships still have to moor during the works to load and unload goods, the 1,200 m quay wall will be tackled in three major phases. And each of them was further subdivided into several, for a more granular management inside the Revit model.

These phases have been carefully designed based on the expected traffic in the coming years. The quay wall will be rotated to increase the distance between the shipping channel in the river and the terminal and to protect the nearby nature reserve. In the first three years, the first 450 m of the wall will be rebuilt to prepare for the future. The Europa Terminal is located in an outer bend of the river, the current is very strong and the tide difference is about 5 meters. In order to protect the dockyard area from passing ships, a temporary structure will be built first between the fairway and the construction site. These also prevent debris from ending up in the river. Afterwards, the existing quay is demolished. Once the new quay wall is finished, the temporary structures are demolished and the berths are dredged to the required depth of 17.5 meters. As a final step, the new container cranes are installed. Then, the process is repeated for the next piece of quay wall of 220 m and finally the remaining 530 m. To provide extra protection for the nature reserve and to ensure that it does not subside, an underwater dam is also being built. In this way, the Port of Antwerp remains a World port with care for its surroundings.  

Collaboration for modelling and detailing was possible due to Revit’s Cloud Worksharing tools, while Autodesk Docs served as the platform to engage all stakeholders, including all engineers, to review the 3D model and the drawings. As for local authorities who might not need to have Revit licenses, there is always the option to share with them DWG documents exported from the Revit model and keep the latest version available for them in the cloud. 

In my previous blog post, I focused on rebar detailing for buildings, while in this one on a very large civil structure. No matter your area of expertise within reinforced concrete, you are most likely very familiar with at least one of these two domains. And Revit can fit them all. 

Get AEC updates in your inbox

By clicking subscribe, I agree to receive the AEC newsletter and acknowledge the Autodesk Privacy Statement.