With a career founded in Australia and then expanded across the globe, Phil Latham has seen the good, the bad and the very ugly of projects. Following his move to Brisbane, he is keen to see our new world city take on some of the best ideas from around the globe to ensure we keep developing it in a way that protects the lifestyle that we have with the projects that we need.
Bringing the World to Brisbane
I am loving my time in Brisbane, it really is an extraordinary and unique place that deserves its reputation for liveability, openness and potential that sees it continually rise in the ranks of global liveability. And despite what our southern friends may say the coffee is fantastic and being ‘a big country town’ is not a bad thing.
But like any city, Brisbane is experiencing some growing pains as infrastructure, housing and amenities struggle to keep pace with the predicted growth in population, and when any city is at a crossroads, it is essential that we take the right path. Based on what I have seen from London to Dubai to Hong Kong, there is a lot we can learn and a lot we can avoid as we seek to grow in the right way, so here are my thoughts for developing Brisbane.
Take the Best, Ditch the Rest
Brisbane is one of the most expensive cities in Australia in which to develop, overtaking Melbourne in a recent study  and that will always pose challenges.
The middle east has the benefit of cheap labour, but is less sophisticated in other areas.
Hong Kong and Singapore have extraordinary land costs.
London, Paris or Berlin are constrained by heritage and history and land prices.
So we have to wonder why things are so challenging in Brisbane. If anything in Brisbane we should be in a sweet-spot for development and be able to design, plan and build the city’s future with relative ease. In my opinion, what we must do is to look at how the world has modernised and to make sure that we can take the best technologies, methodologies and design approaches to cost-effectively and affordably use our city’s strengths to develop.
Get Creative With Space
In any urban environment, there is always pressure for space and Brisbane is no different to any city. For most cities there are three choices to alleviating the challenges of space; sprawl, increase density or get creative with space.
Brisbane is already sprawling, and it will not be long until we have a megacity stretching from the Sunshine Coast to the New South Wales border. At the same time councils are restricting developments that would increase density, with large parcels of land being deemed off-limits. So, we must take a look at how we can get creative with space and whenever you take a trip on Brisbane’s rail network you can see the areas that have significant possibilities for creatively using space. A great example of this approach is Brisbane Live! which will take shape over the train lines at Roma Street Station immediately turning a vacant space into a 17,000 seat entertainment precinct that cannot be built anywhere else in the CBD because the land isn’t available.
Another great example of how we can use rail spaces is Geon Property’s proposal for the Albion Exchange that will see a tired and dysfunctional rail station modernised as part of above rail retail and residential development. We must continue to think like this in terms of how we use space and how developers can be incentivised to modernise or create infrastructure as part of their developments.
As Cross River Rail and Brisbane Metro take shape there is a unique opportunity to use the space around these transport corridors while examining opportunities to use existing infrastructure differently. For example, if you were planning Brisbane today, you would not build the Riverside Expressway and Captain Cook Bridge as it denies access to a large portion of the Brisbane River. An approach which has been taken in Seattle has seen an extensive riverside section of elevated freeway replaced by a tunnel, opening up a huge section of the City to become parkland, residential and commercial development. Imagine if Brisbane had a true north bank to mirror the fantastic facilities at Southbank?
One of Inertia’s current projects The Midtown Centre is a fantastic example of true adaptive reuse, and Brisbane’s existing building stock is prime picking for similar upgrades that retain large elements of the built environment.
Future Proof Our Designs
We also need to ensure that we future-proof our designs. The way in which buildings are being used is changing more rapidly than ever as trends and technologies determine how users want to interact with spaces, and as engineers and designers we have to be able to foresee those changes and provide our buildings with future flexibility.
In the coming years we will be faced with continual upheaval in retail, changing working environments as telecommuting finally gains traction, and changing transport trends as ridesharing continues to increase and autonomous vehicles change the way roads are used and cars are parked.
As structure is the most permanent aspect of a building, these elements should have some flexibility. This could include designing carpark buildings with taller storey heights so they can be reused in the future for a habitable space. A focus on the cheapest build for a specific use does not create buildings that can have their own lives and adapt to changing uses. This is the challenge that we have to confront.
Develop in Context
In my opinion this has been Brisbane’s biggest failing and is the reason why there is a perceived resentment about development within the community. Having looked through ambitious, yet unsuccessful developments from across the city, the ones that fail to gain approval – no matter how beautiful they may look, or how they would eventually be welcome additions to the city – each one has a lack of context to their local environment.
A classic recent example was the Zaha Hadid designed trio of towers destined for Toowong. A typical example of the late architect’s work, they would have made Brisbane the site of this world class architects first Australian project, but they were simply not right for Toowong and the community fought the development every step of the way. Would they have been right for the CBD, or for the River Front at Eagle Street or Southbank where they have more context with their local environment, is something we have to take into account if we want to develop Brisbane in the right way.