Brisbane’s mistaken identity 28 May 2018

Thanks to increasing interstate migration and an evolving job market, population growth has led to a boom in Brisbane development over the last decade. But where to from here? According to Liam Proberts, who leads award-winning Brisbane architectural practice bureau^proberts, the city’s in need of some serious character building.  



“I think in the next decade, Brisbane really needs to define its character through its urban design and its architecture,” Liam says. Without affirmative action now, he believes we risk mistaking our own identity.


“I’m not saying we shouldn’t learn from other cities and other locations but we shouldn’t necessarily borrow from them without question.” Brisbane is not alone in its tendency towards imitation. Liam believes it’s a worldwide phenomenon.


Tailoring design to suit the fabric of the city

“The fabric of a precinct changes wherever you are.” For example, he describes the original fabric of Fortitude Valley as having been quite industrial, with a mix of large buildings bordered by high walls, together with a smattering of smaller establishments on less-frequented streets.


“Over time, we’ve seen industrial facilities and warehouses move further down the river — driving urban renewal and the demand for more retail and social spaces for the residents of Teneriffe and New Farm.”


In a nutshell, Liam believes a city’s true character can be uncovered by:


        ●  Understanding the heritage and purpose of existing buildings
        ●  Appreciating how streetscapes and footpaths are used
        ●  Acknowledging how people dine and recreate


“Good urban design amplifies and carries on a city’s existing character, rather than merely replicating something from somewhere else.”


Brisbane’s true character

From Liam’s viewpoint, Brisbane is best described as casual, seemingly frugal and almost celebratory in relation to its pleasing climate.


“We don’t have a preciousness about our building materials and the way we put buildings together but, of course, we do like them to be well designed, strong and

robust. We are not into grandness — we are more concerned about generating a sense of engagement and openness. There is an adventurous spirit in terms of the way we engage with our climate and the way we use our spaces.”


Encouraging purposeful design

Liam believes good urban design starts with good communication. From where he sits, the priority must always be understanding how residents, business owners and service providers use the spaces in which they live and work. “Community engagement is the cornerstone of effective urban design,” he says.


Liam’s adamant that councils need to prioritise design outcomes over what he describes as the “politics of planning”. According to Liam, a decisive shift is required to increase councils’ engagement with designers and to provide incentives for those designers to tailor buildings and precincts to better serve their communities.






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