Friday, May 9, 2014



This was the headline that surprised the eye. What! Gibbo has just died and already the vultures are moving in to clean up the profits by reworking his much-loved and awarded work, literally behind his back. It seems that someone did not have the courage to promote such a vision during his lifetime. It looks like an opportunist’s cowardice. Part of his Queensland Cultural Centre had already been given a work over by the practice involved in the proposed redesign, and other firms too. Now it seemed that everything was open for anything to occur. Airspace was going to be sold. The report simply said that it ‘will’ be - no doubts at all. The whole place would be given an upgrade, added life, 'energised' as the jargon spin says, suggesting that the precinct, like Gibbo, is now dead - past its useful life purpose; or is it just about style and fashionable imagery? - see:

Can linear places be public squares, or do they remain thoroughfares?

What might Robin Gibson have thought of this proposal that seemed to have at its heart the desire to make money by selling off rights to develop a high rise hotel and an equally high block of apartments in the cultural precinct. Indeed, the Premier of the State boldly noted, ‘open and upfront’ as he said - as if this rude, brazen positioning was the same as ‘open’ government, not selling off the jewels or defacing a significant building complex - that this exercise was a blatant grab for profits, to make money for the coffers that, like every government of opposite persuasion always says, were ‘in a much worse state than anticipated.’ It is this shameless admission that the whole concept is about making money that allows the architectural jargon to look like simple fabrications, invented to mislead, to divert attention away from what appears to be obvious: that this is a pure grab for cash where anything will be allowed if one can pay for it or will pay for it. It does not appear to be a development that has the good of Brisbane or its future at its heart. It seems to hold no vision other than those in its own interests. It reeks of some of the reports now coming from ICAC, the New South Wales corruption commission, where money is sought for a variety of causes, fabricated excuses, any reason - but it is always for money alone; just for money. The motivation is singular; the purpose insignificant: the only outcome considered relevant is to gain money. This is no way to plan.

Given that the claim about defeated governments leaving messy finances always arises, yes always, meaning that promises have to be broken for the good of the country and all of the voters - remember the classic ‘non-core ‘ promise of Little Johnny, Primer Minister Howard ? - why is no party bright enough, honest enough, or responsible enough to allow for such contingencies, to accommodate such circumstances when promoting itself and promising outcomes for government? It all looks like a game that allows the most outrageous guarantees to be made in the grab for power, and then, when they have to be broken, to keep blaming others as long as might be possible in order to allow anything to occur. It has almost become a cliché circumstance. Yes, governments are experts at creating ways in which anything might happen all for the good of everyone in a ‘win-win’ spin situation, in spite of anything that might have been assured.

So the spin is that money has to be made from nothing but air; that the government ‘goodies,’ anything, anywhere, have to be sold for fast cash to improve the books that have been left in such a drastic and critical shape. Things are promoted as being urgent and necessary until there is some other desire to spend - then money flows willy-nilly. It seems that someone came up with the idea to create a new master plan for the cultural precinct of Brisbane’s south bank area and beyond, and was able to flog the idea of selling airspace to the government and developers: literally money for nothing! The report in The Courier Mail said that Cox Rayner, the firm that designed the Kurilpa Bridge, has prepared the ‘20 year plan.’ - see
This was the firm that falsely promoted the pedestrian bridge across the Brisbane River as a ‘tensegrity strucutre’ without qualification when it was really a cable stay structure that only in a very small, incidental, almost decorative part, involved tensegrity principles. This fact was finally admitted in a corrected Wikipedia article posted under the name of the engineers, Arup. The Cox Rayner site had been closed down by Wikipedia because it apparently breached the site’s conditions, possibly by using it for commercial promotional purposes: see -

What energises spaces?

Now this architectural firm wants to change the Gibson development in what appears to be a blatant grab for a job. Where is the need? The firm has already been involved in the Master Plan for the GOMA extension of the site. For this precinct it created a forecourt of vehicular driveways and bus stops that services the car parking entrances and drop off areas. One wonders why such a great riverfront opportunity had been so misused for mundane traffic purposes that create a barrier for pedestrian approaches, when there were other subtler and more sensitive possibilities that could have created places for people that connected with the river. The public space that is left over reads like an incidental, narrow linear link between the art gallery and GOMA running in front of the cheekily redecorated library that seems to be the model for the redesign of all of Robin Gibson’s work: smother it with ad hoc interesting pieces and a story.

Planned with a different vision, these places could have become a public square spreading out from the Merivale Street axis at the strangely-named Go Between bridge – don’t all bridges go between? - and connecting directly with the CBD via other bridge connections that had some rational beginning and ending, places that made sense to join together, as argued in On Bridges - see - a natural, cohesive connection touching necessity and purpose within the structure of the city, enriching it, celebrating it, rather than seeking a dramatic ‘world’s first’ and missing poorly with deceptive promotions. Now this architectural firm wants to change the cultural centre precinct, put life back into it when it had the chance to do this years ago, both in the master plan and with the bridge. One has to be sceptical, especially with the Premier’s admission still ringing in the ears: money, money, money!

The illustration uses the typical half-light, day-night technique of architectural photographs to highlight the interior
and shades the tower mass into the darker cloud off to one side, almost as an incidental 'aside'

A glimpse at the images on line in The Courier Mail site shows the usual architectural graphic tricks. Here we see glass and reflective bamboozlings layering Gibson’s forms with grey-blue ghosts of towers looming softly in the sky in gentle, sweetly innocent monochromatic puffs. Towers do not do this unless in cloud or mist, an occasion in Brisbane that is rather rare. This is an architectural misrepresentation - yet again, another one of the many seen in this profession? - see  Towers are solid; hard: they have a presence and footprint; they do not float; they create and cast shade. They can reflect, like the glassy layers that find it useful to be delineated in this manner apparently to multiply confusion in order to add ‘interest’ to the vision, complexity for the eye to be dazzled; for the perception to be fuzzy and intriguing, suggesting ‘new life,’ whatever this is. Why argue for added life, suggesting that there is none, or little there now, when there was the chance to do just this, to at least start it, with an earlier master plan? Surely these are not just sugary words and nebulous images to soften up minds for the advantage of developers? Or are they? What is really wrong with the place as it now exists, an aggregation of award winning buildings designed by an architect who was a Gold Medallist in his profession? Could this firm improve on Ronchamp? La Tourette? Wright’s work? Why not? What are the moral rights obligations here? Is this merely the same old argument that any other architect could do better?

The scheme reminds one of Le Corbusier's Plan Voisin for the centre of Paris, 1925 - proposed nearly 90 years ago!

There is a question lingering here: why does it seem impossible for one architect to respect another architect’s work? Why is it that one architect always believes that a superior job can always be done - by him or her? There is a sickness in the profession that is promoted by the self-centred idea that architects are gods - that ‘my’ expression is always supreme: IRON architects. More modesty is required; more piety; more tolerance; greater humility.

But does not an architect have a moral right for his work to be respected? On moral rights and more personally, I have had an important portion, the entrance and its parts, of one of my projects, the Kangaroo Point Cliffs Boardwalk, demolished by this firm - ironically with its Goodwill Bridge - without any contact being made, nothing at all by anyone; and another project, Block E at the South Bank TAFE, significantly modified after I had been contacted by a third party - apparently the firm did not want to talk to me directly about it: mmmmm. After I had said that I would refuse the proposal, I was told smugly, carelessly, that it was going to happen in spite of my objections. The box on the required consultation had been ticked: so much for moral rights in Queensland. Given these outcomes with this same firm of architects, one has to be concerned about the respect that might be shown for Gibbo’s work. As an aside, it is interesting to read that Roger Scruton sees beauty as a moral matter; but this is Queensland where beauty and morals seem to play second fiddle to money and other’s whims.

Well, what would Robin Gibson have thought of this scheme? Sadly, he is no longer here to tell us, but he would have been very articulate about it. What we know of his thoughts can assist us. He always spoke of his cultural centre in the context of the distant hills of Mount Coot-tha. Its role was to block out the rude silhouetted industrial profiles poking up from West End when viewed from the city, to allow everyone to lift up their eyes unto the hills, to enjoy them without the intervention of the crude, ad hoc functional structures. Gibbo loved these hills that formed the western horizon of the cityscape, just as he cherished the Kangaroo Pint cliffs that closed the eastern vistas. One might assume that this is the reason that he kept his development low, horizontal: to allow his carefully detailed, off-white concrete masses to be framed by this iconic, rolling backdrop to the city. He recognised that Brisbane held a unique quality with its special relationship to these natural features.

Ghosts of the future float as rectangular clouds in the graded wash of the sky over the river steps

On a more detailed and specific, personal note, one can see that, in one illustration in The Courier Mail, the forecourt and riverside zones have been reshaped with numerous steps leading down to the river walk built years after the gallery’s completion. I worked with Robin on this part of the project in the early days when something was needed for the Queen to open - see: In some early sketches, I had prepared some schemes just like this one, but Rob rejected them all. He finally developed the idea of green areas getting higher and denser as they approached the bridge, with a clever diagonal ramp running across the slope - a very subtle idea that made this place distinctive. Robin did not want steps, just grassy slopes and riverside green in front of his building. Yet the ‘redesigned’ plan has concrete steps in excess, complete with hoods. Are these for shade? The Kurilpa Bridge is not the only bridge this firm has designed. There is the Goodwill Bridge too. Both have shades that, at times, struggle to achieve what seems to be their purpose. What might happen here, as style seems to be more important than function in the existing examples.

Has the Gold Coast City Council cultural centre competition inspired this firm to create a diagrammatic grid to cover the surrounds? - see: There is this suggestion in the patterning of the proposed shelters that ARM considers to be its great discovery that allowed everything to fall into place in its Gold Coast scheme that, interestingly, also has its commercial driving force. Important blocks lining Bundall Road are to be subdivided off and sold for apartment block developments. The income from these sales will apparently fund the new scheme - ‘win-win’ spin again, all for the good of the people! Dare one object?

Oh, what to do? What is one expected to say? The issues are so mixed, convoluted and complex that they seem impure - insincere. There does not appear to be sufficient evidence to make any upgrade necessary apart from some revenge of style. The timing is just too sad; too blatant; too structured; the Premier’s words too bold. The ambitions likewise seem to be unbelievable, to involve greed and self-interest rather than any improvement of public place in Brisbane, for Brisbane. This is, as the Premier has declared it, simply a money grab.

One needs a better argument for change than this, because it is very likely to be only a scheme for the good of the developer rather than anything else. Consider Barangaroo in Sydney. The report today, (07 May 2014), in the media pointed out that this project has doubled in size since it was first briefed in 2005 - for the good of? What might happen at the cultural centre? What history might be defaced? How much more airspace might be sold of? Where else might one get money for air? How big might this apparent grab become?

Sydney Morning Herald ‎- 1 day ago
Unpublished plans for the Barangaroo site show planned buildings have more than doubled in size since the original design brief was issued, .

Brisbane needs better than this - better planning; more concern; more consideration; more real and substantial beauty that is looked after, cared for, rather than being modified just to suit a few. The other matter of interest here noted by Roger Scruton is that cities started to fail once architects took on urban planning, creating single visions for large regions rather than letting areas grow as an accumulation of places shaped to accommodate neighbours, not built as smart districts for the display of sole genius: 'MY' importance: see RogerScruton Green Philospohy How To Think Seriously Sbout The Panet, Atlantic Books, London, 2013. This precinct seems to be being shaped just for money, by money, rather than having anything to do with people, place or planet.

Robin Gibson's complex becomes almost incidental, cropped off to one side in favour of the new and bold

We need to rediscover how to make cities of true quality, not bleat out jargon phrases and commercial blurb in order to convince a few to allow a few to do anything just for the benefit of the few. This has nothing to do with Spitfire pilots either. There is no glory here for anyone, just profits.

But everything is now open for public comment. This is a strange strategy often used by the Premier in order to get his way. Who really knows what the ‘result’ might be? Who checks? Is this just the cliché call of politicians to ‘trust us’? Anyone can say and claim anything in this loose guise of a game? There are no rules; there is no scrutiny; no strategy other than to prove one point that will be proved. What is the methodology other than diversionary spin? My personal experience with this scheming was with parking in our street. To overcome my clear and calculated objections, proven mathematically, the premier, then Lord Mayor of Brisbane, contacted neighbours via an informal poll to ask all nearby residents their opinion of my proposal. The response was that I lost: go away; we will no longer respond to any of your correspondence. Can this outcome be verified? No. Is it sensible? No.

The blunt, somewhat 'smart-arse' hand-scribbled note on the bottom of the letter read: ‘Its not about equity; its about democracy!’ - signed Campbell Newman. Puzzlingly Newman’s view of democracy has nothing to do with equity: (see 20 June 2014 note below). It is a bit like PM Abbott’s understanding of democracy. He has recently said that democracy has nothing to do with what people want; it has to do with what people need. This is 7th May 2014. The budget is due next Tuesday. No doubt we will be told what we need, in the same manner as Newman will tell us likewise for our cultural centre that ‘will’ have its airspace developed. One has to remember Newman’s credentials. He promoted the development of the tunnels in Brisbane that are reportedly seriously struggling to survive financially; but Newman holds no shame about this. Oddly, almost unbelievably, the illustrations in The Courier Mail include a final video of, yes, yet another tunnel proposal - a two-level tunnel for trains and buses. Will he never learn? It seems not, because only politicians know what the people need in an inequitable democracy.

The video entertains the eye with vehicles moving just as in child's play

It all appears to be a recipe for a problematical outcome for the city, again. Yet wasn’t it Newman who promoted the city as ‘the most liveable’? Jargon needs to be challenged; spin queried. Real experience needs to become not only our guide and measure, how we might improve and enrich it, but also our ambition, how to care for neighbours, place and context. Vague notions of opportunities for profit alone should be sidelined so that real impacts can be assessed rather than having our city sold off to developers for profit. We need to listen to what the city is saying, to what it wants to be. Forcing outcomes on any place is like waterboarding it in order to achieve a defined conclusion, as declared in the IT WILL HAPPEN, in spite of everything and anything.

The Gold Coast Bulletin carried a small article with the headline:
Airspace over the Queensland Performing Arts Centre and the Queensland Museum will be sold off by the State Government to fund a facelift for the cultural precinct.

Bold plans for the redesign unveiled at the State Library yesterday include two new towers, a 1500-seat theatre and more covered walkways.

Premier Campbell Newman said his government was being “quite open and upfront” about the commercial opportunities included in the upgrade.

Note: ‘will’ - it will happen in spite of anything; ‘bold’ - the scheme is controversial; and the ‘open and upfront’ position, as if this made the concept and its process democratic and fair in spite of everything appearing otherwise. One is able to be ‘open and upfront’ with the most hideous of propositions, but it does not change their sense or morality. Spin needs to be deconstructed so that cunning politicians and architects who want to tell us what they need, do not hoodwink us. This is not city planning. It is the highwayman’s approach to planning: lurk in the dark and take advantage of all opportunities in order to maximize profit in spite of anyone’s existence and any neighbour’s needs: but who is my neighbour? This is the classic legal question that has been beautifully answered by Lord Atkin:
 Lord Atkin observed: “The rule that you are to love your neighbour becomes in law, you must not injure your neighbour . . . Who then in law is my neighbour?”

The answer seems to be – persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in my contemplation as being so affected when I am directing my mind to the acts or omissions which are called in question.

One always needs to consider neighbours in any design or redesign: the original architect, the nearby residents, and the passersby. We need to listen carefully and quietly to what the city and its inhabitants are saying, not to what the developers might want or what the politicians demand.

see also:


Brisbane cultural centre precinct to be radically redesigned under new master plan
MAY 05, 2014 4:30PM
SOUTH Bank’s skyline will be transformed by an ambitious redesign of the cultural precinct that will add a new five-star hotel and residential tower to the area.
Open spaces will be “energised” with new seating and covered walkways, outdoor theatres and dining facilities.
The firm that designed the Kurilpa Bridge, Cox Rayner, came up with the “20-year vision” which will now be made available for public comment.
Unveiling the plans today, Premier Campbell Newman said the sale of airspace over the Queensland Performing Arts Complex and the Queensland Museum would help fund the work.
“The master plan is a bold vision to guide future development and investment over the next 20 years, proposing new theatres, hotels, dining and science facilities as well as a new learning centre,” Mr Newman said.
“We want to make what’s great about Queensland even better and the economic advantages of a booming cultural precinct will be felt by all Queenslanders.”
The plan aims to increase visitor numbers to the precinct from five million a year to 7.5 million and boost revenue by 120 per cent.
Arts Minister Ian Walker said there was unprecedented public demand in Queensland for performing arts, with people turning out in droves to purchase tickets for Disney’s The Lion King at QPAC, and the recent sellout art show Cai Guo-Qiang: Falling Back to Earth.
“We want to keep attracting these magnificent shows while preserving what makes Southbank so unique and attractive,” Mr Walker said.
As part of the push to make Southbank more of an “extension of the city” the plan proposes covering pedestrian walkways on the Victoria Bridge.
Mr Newman said that had been looked at before, and it was found to be almost impossible to do.
 “Let’s have another go at that, there is advice from some of these experts here who say they can come up with some ways to do it.
“I do remember that a former deputy to myself (as Lord Mayor) David Hinchliffe suggested an umbrella stand at either end of the bridge. That was a joke.”
The period for public comment will run for up to two months, and Mr Newman said he would expect the initial steps to delivering the plan be taken in the 2015-16 financial year.

On 'the plan aims to increase visitor numbers,' see: also reported on the redesign:

Cultural precinct to get new theatre, hotel under proposed master plan
Natalie Bochenski May 05, 2014

An artist's impression of the proposed changes to the cultural precinct. Photo: Supplied
Queenslanders have one month to tell the government what they think of a sweeping new master plan for Brisbane’s cultural precinct.
Premier Campbell Newman said he had “no shadow of a doubt” that the 20-year plan would make South Bank and South Brisbane Australia’s leading arts and culture hub.
“I think this vision will be very powerful for Brisbane going forward,” he said.
“Nowhere in Australia has so rich an offering, such a range of different venues and experiences in such a vibrant piece of public space.”
The plan, drawn up by Cox Rayner architects and consultants Urbis, is designed to make the precinct easier to navigate, and to better connect existing cultural assets.
It features:
Expansions to the Queensland Museum, plus a dedicated science centre
A new 5-star hotel and/or office space to be built over the Queensland Performing Arts Complex, which will also see a new 1500-seat theatre built, plus an all-seasons outdoor venue
More public access to the river from the State Library, including an amphitheatre, remodelled Edge facility and CityCat terminal
A new grand staircase to the Queensland Art Gallery forecourt, plus expanded frontage, a new gallery and a canopied link to GoMA
A remodelled Cultural Forecourt, to include space for 10,000 people during large public events, and waterfront seating with a canopy
A new pedestrian bridge over Melbourne Street
Covered footpaths on the Victoria Bridge
A future major cultural facility on the current Parmalat factory site at Kurilpa (subject to plans for the business to move)
Arts Minister Ian Walker said the plan incorporated advice from all stakeholders, including the Brisbane City Council and South Bank Corporation, but now needed input from its future users.
“What you see here today is a great inspiration for comment, but it might not be what it finishes up as at all,” he said.
“It depends upon the people of Queensland, because it’s now their turn to tell us what they want from this precinct.”
Mr Newman said until public consultation was complete the government would not put a cost on the development, but admitted it would try to minimise its own contribution.
“The idea with the two towers is that we could generate some income from that to pay for some of this infrastructure, so we’re going to try to make it as self-funding as we can,” he said.
“The other thing that will help pay for this is the expansion of the retail space…that will help provide a revenue stream.”
Mr Newman said consultation could be extended to two months if required, after which time construction priorities would start being assigned, with bids to be received for the 2015-2016 financial year.

Note: "no shadow of a doubt" . . . "very powerful for Brisbane going forward" . . . "nowhere in Australia" . . . "a vibrant piece of public space" - all these comments are based on a few scant, smudgy sketches. It looks like pure spin; vague, hyped hopes being used as a sales pitch to sell apparent certainty: that 'it' - whatever - will happen: "so rich an offering"? Humbug? It appears so since, as Lord Mayor of the City of Brisbane, Campbell Neuman was always complaining about the State's control of the Southbank Parklands area, arguing that this important part of Brisbane should be controlled by the Brisbane City Council planners. Now we see Neuman, as Premier of the State of Queensland, promoting a special master plan for the cultural precinct on the south bank without any apparent involvement of the Brisbane City Council. Such are the games of power.

A city needs a rich vision as a whole, a plan defined in a clear and precise, unambiguous enforceable document that is indeed implemented, not negotiated away to the highest bidder or bamboozled by the cleverest spin. Plucking out different areas of a city and formulating special plans for these precincts out of the context of the whole is a random and opportunistic method for any city to develop. But the redesign of Robin Gibson's Brisbane award-winning cultural precinct is, after all, only Neuman's grab for money, isn't it?

20 June 2014
Do all right wing governments hold a vision of democracy without equality?
Joe Hockey says 'we can't promise equality' as he dismisses budget critics

It seems that, with Premier Newman, if it is not tunnels, it's towers: see -

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