Urban design duo declare collaboration key to success 26 September 2018


Imagine the capabilities of a design duo whose collective experience exceeds more than five decades. Add to that a string of ground-breaking projects within Australia and abroad. Despite their impressive resumes — or perhaps because of them — two of Queensland’s leading designers believe ‘people power’ is what drives positive urban design outcomes.  


Thanks to their significant industry experience, bureau^proberts’ Creative and Managing Director Liam Proberts and Urban Designer Brian Toyota always adopt an inter-disciplinary approach. “We should never separate planning from urban design,” Brian says. “Likewise, we don’t separate architecture from interior design. No professional should work in a vertical silo — you have to take a horizontal approach.”


“Having worked on challenging and complex projects, I’ve learnt the importance of bringing the entire team together from the outset,” Brian explains. “Environmental engineers, town planners, marketers and financial controllers — from the very beginning of a project, we involve all of those key people in the design process. The focus should not be on us as  designers. The focus should be on the project or place we are all creating together.”


Pioneering projects


In the late ‘80s, Brian was one of the Design Directors behind Sanctuary Cove. At that time, it was a benchmark integrated development for Queensland — comprising two golf courses, a marina, residential buildings, a series of clubs and amenities, together with a village centre.


So complex was the development, it required new legislation to bring it to fruition. “Sanctuary Cove involved different levels of land ownership, layering of body corporates and things that did not even exist in Australia at that time,” Brian explains. Fast forward to 2018 and Brian is eagerly anticipating a return to Sanctuary Cove — this time collaborating with Liam Proberts to design the site’s reimaging as a dynamic township in its own rite.


Brian’s international experience includes work on Singapore’s Sentosa Island, back in the mid-90s. “We brought together economists, tourism experts, engineers and a whole team of consultants to develop a master plan to serve as a development strategy year-on-year,” he says.


Building a monorail was the first step in efficiently transporting people to the island. Shortly after, hotels, theme parks and marinas were all integrated into the overall parkland setting. “Sentosa Island was to Singapore what South Bank is to Brisbane,” according to Brian.


Sentosa Island wasn’t Brian’s first foray into international projects. He’s also contributed to design work in Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Brunei. Now based on the Gold Coast and working closely with bureau^proberts’ Creative and Managing Director Liam Proberts, Brian says he’s met his match.


“Liam and I certainly have complementary skills but more importantly, we both come to the table with a common belief that it’s more about the project itself than my style or Liam’s style,” Brian admits.


Common Ground


A shared philosophy is what makes this partnership work. “We both prioritise understanding a location and how it contributes to the fabric of a city,” Liam says. “From there, it all comes down to good design.”


Like Brian, Liam speaks from experience. Long-time Brisbane residents will remember Liam’s work on the urban design of Fortitude Valley’s Anne and McLachlan Streets.  “In Fortitude Valley, the character of the buildings is quite robust so we drew upon the sort of orthogonal, quite raw elements of the area to generate our building design,” he explains.


Later, Liam introduced a laneway to connect the new precinct with more established parts of Fortitude Valley. “At the time, it was considered a bold move but it allowed the buildings to be serviced well and to give pedestrians easy access through the new development into the rest of the suburb.”


It was a successful strategy then and one he’s excited about deploying again in Brisbane’s CBD, opening up the ground plane spanning Charlotte, Mary and George Streets — along with collaborators Architectus.


Looking forward


A big-picture thinker, Liam encourages Brisbane’s town planners, local authorities and politicians to nurture those characteristics that set the city apart from other state capitals.

“We have a choice,” he says. “We can choose to have the city change to create a character all of its own, or we can choose to borrow from other places and maybe lose its character altogether. For the former, we need to be adventurous, open and engaging.”

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