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  • Writer's pictureJohn Lowry

Mega-projects and the Brisbane Olympics

Olympic Venue Revue submission March 2023

This submission is focussed on our successful experience with innovative contracts and excellent process constructing Olympic Games venues in Brisbane.

The Brisbane Entertainment Centre still stands out as an exceptional achievement, that has not been matched with major projects in Queensland, around Australia and around the world.

My expert areas are business process automation, construction contract, and construction cost and time consulting, since 1979.

My company was a key consultant on the construction of some 1980 Commonwealth Games venues, includiing QE11 Stadium and the Chandler Velodrome, followed by the Brisbane Entertainment Centre.  As you would know, this building was designed as a purpose built gymnastics hall for the 1992 Brisbane Olympic Bid. 

What is less known is that the 50% on the other side of the entry quad was to be the basketball stadium if we won the games.  This building was fully designed and documented, and its piled foundations are in the ground.  The complete ready-to-go documentation will be somewhere in Council Archives.

This project was an exemplar project for Brisbane and Australia.  It was managed by the City Council as an early and successful model for cooperative contracting, that the ACA and others are promoting today, as a way to revive the flagging construction sector and rebuild client trust.

The Project

The original estimated project value, in 2023 dollars was $173.4 million.  The total design development period was 21 months.  The construction period was 24 months.

The project was completed in December 1986 with a saving of 3.6% on the original budget (adjusted for inflation), and within 1% of the original 1983 budget.  It was handed over on the predicted day, 24 months from the start of construction.

The direct comparison at the time was the just completed Sydney Entertainment Centre, built under a Design & Construct contract where the original $18.5 million budget overran by 146% and the construction period overran by 153%.  The Brisbane Entertainment Centre featured much better finishes, fit out and facilities, including a Regithermic kitchen, an ice floor in the main stadium, and a full lighting and audio system.  The stadium capacity is 5,000 more than the Sydney stadium.

How did we achieve this success?

The Team

The Brisbane City Council assembled the design and management team in 1983.

The project manager/design manager were experienced Council project managers and architects.  This allowed the project managers direct, trusted, continuing lines of communication with Senior decision makers;

The Brisbane City Architect undertook the architectural design;

Engineering consultants were appointed;

Cost and time management consultants were appointed.

After the base design, budgets and timelines were established, the Construction Manager was engaged to undertake constructability studies, to liaise with design / management consultants and to manage all subcontracts during the construction phase.

Key elements of team building were:

  • Co-location of the entire site management team at site, and

  • All consultants were directly responsible to the client for their performance.  No consultant was filtered through a management contractor or architect.

These elements provided for a cohesive team, with a healthy degree of tension as all parties were answerable only to the client, with no sub-agendas possible.

Selection Process

All consultants, including the construction manager, were appointed, based on capability and experience, after a selection process on the above criteria.  Fees were separately negotiated after appointment, with the advantage of establishing the exact scope of work and resources required, that would be provided for the entire project.


The Client did not skimp on resources.  The site team included a substantial architectural, drafting and engineering team; specialist structural, building services and acoustic engineers;  two specialist cost / contract managers, and one to two programmer/time managers, full-time. The construction manager's team comprised a site project manager, a contract manager, and specialist site foremen/supervisors for structure, services and finishes.

Contract documentation, including architectural, engineering, services, bills of quantities and construction programmes were developed concurrently by separate off-site teams.

The Contract

The main contracts were unique, in that all contracts, including managing contractor, were consulting agreements.  Each contract was reduced to its simplest form, each parties unique responsibilities and remuneration.

Design, cost and time risk was managed, rather than sold.  The client also arranged insurance and other external costs.

The design and construction team had a single focus, to produce the best possible facility on time and on budget.

The team was tied together with a common “Procedures Manual” that was common to all team members and signed as part of each team member’s contract.

The procedures manual set out the scope of services for each member and unified processes for all contract management procedures and processes, including unique processes for change management and time management.


The project was fast-tracked, with minimal documentation at the concept design stage.  However, all construction packages were fully documented prior to tender.  This process provided for:

A detailed pre-contract check on the cost/time/quality criteria and progress.

Documents that provided for tight contract management and the change management process described below.

The Process

Central, high-level, management communication was achieved with weekly Project Control Group meetings, chaired by the project manager,  where attendance was compulsory for all team principals.

The project and design managers were Brisbane City Council employees, that provided for fast, trusted client liaison.

A critical challenge was maintaining the construction program on a unique 'fast track" contract.. Under the construction management system, every subcontract and procurement contract had to pass through the Council approval process at Council meetings. Each trade package had to be documented and tendered, with a recommendation to Council, before commencing. We could not afford to miss a meeting, risking falling behind program.

To achieve this, planning for design, documentation, bills of quantities, tendering, and assessment were fully integrated with the construction programme.

A key feature of this group was a continued focus on the job, with free and open discussion that came from all design, management, and construction teams being directly engaged by and responsible to the Client.  This arrangement also allowed for healthy tension, where no party felt unable or intimidated to give its uncensored report and advice.

This process resulted in significant innovation and cost savings throughout the project that were delivered entirely to the client.  These included, but not limited to:

  • An innovative roof structure and roof-mounted services;

  • An innovative airconditioning design;

  • The ice floor;

  • A complete audio and lighting systems for multi-event use;

  • A specialist catering system capable of delivering up to 400 meals during an interval.

Separating Process from Progress

One of the major points of conflict in construction projects is contract management process impeding progress. 

It is commonly understood that, once on site, progress is all important.  But process impedes this objective, causing delays, uncertainty, and disputes.  We developed an innovative process to ensure that all change was captured at source, so that the project manager could make objective decisions about change before it was either implemented, substituted or rejected.   This process was key to maintaining management control over the project.


Cost and time risk was not sold to the contractor.  The design management and construction  team were enabled to put all their energy into managing these risks, which they did with spectacular result.

The recent book, “How Big Things Get Done”, by Bent Flyvbjerg, the result of 20+ years of researching the success and failure of mega-projects notes many of the above systems  as success markers for major projects.

I would be delighted to discuss the above further with your team if it is of interest and helpful to your deliberations.

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