MFB Design Brief by Jeremy Shum et al [2009] – Introduction

Posted on: June 6, 2009

1        Introduction

Cambodia is located across the Pacific Ocean from the West Coast of the United States of America, a bit further than Australia, as shown in Figure 1.1.  It is the successor of the once powerful Hindu/Buddhist Khmer Empire between the 11th and 14th centuries (The Phnom Penh Post, 2009), but Christianity is rapidly expanding and shaping culture (Back to Jerusalem, 2006).


Figure 1.1: This is where Cambodia is located in
context of the World (University of Texas, 2009)

The Tonle Sap, Cambodian for “Large Freshwater River” (Geotimes, 2007), or “Great Lake” (Articles Base, 2009), is located in central Cambodia, and expands and contracts depending on the time of the year, as shown in Figure 1.2.


Figure 1.2: This is where the Tonle Sap is located in context
of Cambodia (Helsinki University of Technology, 2006)

Because the Tonle Sap region is susceptible to rising water levels (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2001), Cambodians mostly live in stilted (The Phnom Penh Post, 2009) or floating houses (Angkor Travel, 2009), predominantly travelling by boat.  Figure 1.3 shows a modern-day example of a stilted house.


Figure 1.3: An example of a stilted house, from Disney’s Bridge to Terrabithia

Unfortunately, travelling in this manner restricts movement, and ultimately, geographical freedom.  A modern-day equivalent would be requiring all Beverly Hills residents to use a vehicle when navigating the roadways, rather than allowing residents to walk freely through the roads.  Obviously, requiring so would be somewhat limiting.  The fundamental idea of a bridge was proposed to allow Cambodians to freely walk their “land”, or more semantically correct, freely “walk on water”.

As shown in Figure 1.4 however, even a Beverly Hills road is truly complex, everything from construction (Lay, 1992) to routing (Lexico Publishing Group, 2007) to transport economics (Nobel Foundation, 2000).  It truly astonishing to see just how many Westerners take their roads and other civil infrastructure for granted.


Figure 1.4: A Beverly Hills road is complex in way of both design and construction.

Furthermore, unlike much of the Western World (including Venice in Europe), Cambodia faces a unique problem in relation to continuously changing water levels that differ vastly depending on season and time of year (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2001).  In other words, the distinctive question that applied to Cambodia was what way was there to create a bridge that firstly, could stay stationary despite it was a large distance away from land; and secondly, could adjust for changing water levels.

The only solution was the Modular Floating Bridge (herein referred to as the “MFB”), which in its preliminary level has previously been used in the United States and around the World in defense, usually referred to as “pontoon bridges” (Brook, 1998).  The MFB team’s task was ultimately transposing this Western idea to suit the Eastern environment that the Tonle Sap finds itself.

1.1    SWOT Analysis

The Strengths of Cambodia lies in the public perception it needs help, thus attracts attention from various agencies (Engineers Without Borders UK, 2004).  Although this is counteracted by lack of access to capital (World Vision Singapore, 2007), it means that the MFB project has at least some start-up capital.

The Weaknesses of Cambodia lies in its inability to access capital, due to its bad credit rating (although slowly improving) (Monster’s and Critic’s, 2008), low aggregate country income (Bharat Book Bureau, 2005), and public perception (World Federation of Public Health Associations, 2005).  Thus, the MFB budget was severely limited as a result.  As a result, materials were also limited to those that were commonly available within Cambodia, rather than importing materials from overseas that would likely be comparatively more expensive, not even considering freight (ASENA Secretariat, 2009) and tariff charges (World Bank, 2008).

The Opportunities in Cambodia lie in its underdevelopment (Foundations Pour Des Actions Concretes, 2007), thus there are huge opportunities for investment in infrastructure (Government of Cambodia, 2009), which could potentially attract advertising revenue (Beyond Madison Avenue, 2008), as well as business-government partnerships (Asian Development Bank, 2005), and government funding (Economic Institute of Cambodia, 2004).

The Threats to Cambodia are that because the country is slowly gaining momentum, many companies may already be investing in Cambodia (Government of Cambodia, 2009), which could attract huge completion, which could ultimately lead to a price war (Ryckman, 1994).

1.2    Problem Definition

The problem the MFB team faced was creating a civil infrastructure, which would assist persons residing in the Tonle Sap Lake and River in Cambodia.

The proposal outlined is a response to the EWB Challenge, which hopes to help the lives of people living in poverty and disadvantage.  The aim is to respond to the disadvantaged communities living on and around the Tonle Sap Lake and River in Cambodia, by presenting a sustainable human development solution (United Nations Development Program, 2007).  It is truly hoped the Live & Learn and EWB community partners will find the MFB solution innovative and beneficial for new trials and pilot tests.

The various conceptual designs include an integrated design solution, including physical infrastructure, machinery, equipment and appropriate technologies.  The design aims to assist Live & Learn to support the local communities in their own efforts to improve the quality of their lives from a social, environmental and economic perspective.

In short, the aim is to build a bridge that differentiates itself from the current pontoon bridges on the market because of its extendibility.  Whereas current pontoon bridges are built to specific lengths, the MFB idea is to create a pontoon bridge that can be extended and shortened like the aggregating and disaggregating of Lego blocks.


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