Why 443 Queen Street is an Exemplary Example of Subtropical Design

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Artist's impression

OPINION: 443 Queen Street is an exemplary example of quality subtropical design and complements not only Customs House but also creates new permeability between Queen Street and the Brisbane River.

We believe Information being spread by the University of Queensland’s ‘Save Customs House’ campaign is extremely one sided. To keep the argument balanced, BrisbaneDevelopment.com has compiled some key facts about the development.

UQ’s first and most obvious misleading tale is in the title of their campaign ‘Save Customs House’ which implies that the building is in some sort of danger of being demolished. This is both an unfair and unreasonable premise as none of the heritage values of the iconic Customs House stated in the State Heritage Register citation will be affected by the proposed development at 443 Queen Street.

Planned 480 Queen St (left), Existing commercial building (middle & right).

The building’s historical and aesthetic significance will remain unaffected and undiminished by the proposed development. In particular, the proposed development pays respect to Customs House by opening up views of it from Queen Street that are presently blocked by the existing building at 443 Queen Street.

The development will achieve this through the design of the 20 metre high podium which will contain large, void spaces allowing views through it to the Story Bridge, the Brisbane River and the Customs House. This is what the Town Plan requires and the development complies with it.

Setback & Boundaries

The proposed building is being developed on the existing basement and will have the same footprint. The distance between the new podium, and Customs House itself remains the same. Despite this, because of the podium design better views of the Customs House will be available.

Tall Buildings & Heritage

The statement that a new tall building somehow damages the heritage values of an adjoining heritage listed building is a false proposition. There are many examples in Brisbane and all over the world of modern buildings, including tall buildings, beside old buildings.

An example is which sits immediately adjacent to Waterfront Place. Usually the contrast between the modern building and the old building makes the old building to stand out. The height of an adjoining development has no bearing on the heritage values: what matters is the design of a development at the ground plane.

At the ground plane, and for the full volume of the adjoining space up to the height of Customs House, the development vastly improves upon the existing views and enhances the public domain.

Naldham House. Source Kgbo / Wikipedia

Fig Tree

The development approval given by the Brisbane City Council requires the heritage listed fig tree to be preserved. A qualified arborist has stated clearly that the proposed light pruning of the fig tree will not damage it.

This advice has come from the same arborist who has been looking after the tree on behalf of the University of Queensland. The conditions of the development approval with respect to the fig tree are strict. The fig tree is not in any way in danger because of the development.

The green canopy façade is designed to accentuate and extend the fig tree, simulating a natural expansion or takeover of the building.

Street level integration and green canopy. Source: PDOnline

The Architecture

This is the mother of all reasons why 443 Queen Street needs to proceed. This is Brisbane’s first subtropical designed residential tower, a catalyst project which sets high architectural benchmarks for not only the future architecture in this city but also around the Asia Pacific region.

This is no run of the mill glass facade tower development that Brisbane is use to. Developer, Cbus Property has appointed two architects, Architectus, a Brisbane-based architectural firm as well as Singaporean WOHA. The melding of WOHA & Architectus as the architects combines the mastery of sustainable subtropical design with the architectural expression of Brisbane’s aesthetic, culture and heritage.

In terms of inspiration, 443 Queen Street has been modeled off one of Singapore’s most iconic buildings the Parkroyal on Pickering development.

Parkroyal on Pickering. Source CTBUH / WOHA

What should a Brisbane residential subtropical tower do?

  • Be open to the beautiful weather
  • Protect against sudden subtropical storms
  • Celebrate indoor-outdoor spaces
  • Modify the climate rather than block it out
  • Shade from the hot sun
  • Shelter from the strong breezes
  • Offer homes that are like pavilions in gardens
  • Offer privileged views from private eyries.

Genuine engagement with the local climate gives a strong architectural authenticity that is more powerful than sealed, shiny, ‘spaceship’ styling. A clear and honest response to modifying the climate is the characteristic of all beautiful vernacular architecture.

The ‘Queenslander’ house, an inspiration, is lifted on stilts, and has an inner core, protected by an outer climate modifier – verandah, breezeway, sleepout – that creates the desirable and characteristic in-between living spaces.

Brisbane has longed to achieve proper subtropical design and this building is a true reflection of what residential developers should be doing across the region.

443 Queen Street has been designed to:

  • Engage with the public realm
  • Create new green space for the city
  • Be a habitable subtropical garden
  • Connect the city to the river
  • Celebrate the riverside location
  • Celebrate the climate
  • Celebrate the amazing views
  • Minimise energy use
  • Demonstrate a new way of building and living sustainably in the subtropical city
  • Celebrate Brisbane

The architectural design of the new building has gone to great lengths to ensure that Customs House can be seen from Queen Street and that the plaza around the building will be a public space from which the river, the Story Bridge and the Customs House can be enjoyed by all. This can be confirmed by looking at the public domain engagement report online at the BCC – here.

The conservation architect for the Customs House, Robert Riddell, suggests that the current building on 443 Queen Street should be demolished and the site turned into a park so as to allow better views of the Customs House from the northern end of Petrie Bight.

The University of Queensland apparently would like to see this happen too presumably at public expense. There is no historical nor aesthetic cultural heritage justification to create a view from the north towards the Customs House across Admiralty Park and the site of 443 Queen Street.

Any such view of the Customs House from the north would be blocked by the heritage listed fig tree in any case.

Respect for & Inspiration from Customs House

VOLUMETRIC RELATIONSHIP: New open space is scaled to reference the Customs House mass.
PLINTH BASE: Continuing historical precedent, a constructed platform seeks to provide an appropriate ‘ground’ and ‘platform’ for the building mass.

Commercial Interest

Many of the submissions about the project are commercially motivated being from individuals or entities whose views of the Brisbane River from nearby existing buildings or buildings under construction may be affected.

Those views are not protected by the planning scheme, and those complaining could not have reasonably expected these views to be protected in a CBD environment.

The Future

Look around, we are a growing, thriving city and this development that was rightfully approved by council should continue unhindered as it will add a new dimension to Brisbane’s architectural landscape and showcase subtropical design at its best.

Not every tower should be another safe shiny glass thing which is what is continuously being proposed. We need more unique looking buildings which may not always attract the popular vote but boast a different look and feel and most of all generates conversation.

We are getting a unique world class subtropical design by an Australian developer that does not need to achieve maximum height and scale to achieve profitability. If Brisbane truly wants to achieve a new world city status, it is time we support new world architecture.

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  • The existing 443 Queen St is a rubbish building. I should know. This new one will be slightly different from other towers in the city, but let’s not get carried away – sliced bread is still pretty good.

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