Illustration of the proposed 'Grace on Coronation,' Brisbane, looking west
The site is the riverside block where Coronation Drive bends away from the river
The site for the proposed development
The area to the north of the site
The area to the south of the site
Images from Google Earth
The ABC TV evening news of 1 September 2014 carried a short report on the proposal to redevelop the old ABC TV riverfront site at Toowong - in Brisbane, Queensland, a state of Australia - and flashed up an image of three very tall towers to illustrate the proposal. Apparently the submission for development approval had just been lodged with the Brisbane City Council. After a search on the tablet some time later to find out more about this scheme, it became immediately clear that this was a Zaha Hadid project designed for the Abedian Sunland Group. The Brisbane Times report came with a short news video on this scheme and an image of the developed site. The Australian of 2 September 2014 also carried a report that came with the same promotional illustration: see the texts below. The words in these reports were as interesting as the image itself.
The 'champagne flutes' in 'parkland'
The catchphrase was ‘champagne flutes’ described as being ‘reminiscent of a flower in bloom.’ The image displayed the glow of a bright white lattice of towers looming over the dim gloom of the half-light of evening Brisbane, complete with threatening dark grey clouds that appeared to be symbolically blowing away to the right. The message seemed to be that this was a brilliant, enlightened, world-class scheme that would transform parochial little Brisbane from its hillbilly status as a glum global backwater - see David Malouf’s Johnno - into the centre of the world, ‘a world city’ with such a class act that ‘will set a benchmark for residential designs in Australia.’ The message seemed clear: Australia needs skills from elsewhere to achieve quality outcomes; that anything local would be less: cringe.
The site is bound by Coronation Drive and the Brisbane River
The Brisbane Times text told that ‘pre-lodgement’ discussions had been held with the BCC ‘neighbourhood assessment officers.’ The Australian was more certain - ‘Grace on Coronation, will be built on the site.’ Indeed one could predict that it will go ahead, such is the process of planning approvals in Brisbane - see http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/town-planning-concerns.html : and with a fashionable international, award-winning designer, more concessions will be allowed than ever could possibly be achieved by any local designer: see - http://www.brw.com.au/p/professions/brand_buildings_australian_architects_TWNxY3kqmRb72Pt5kyQrrL and http://www.australiandesignreview.com/features/34701-reinventing-the-city-of-london The cringe is alive and well. One can predict that this ‘world class’ scheme with ‘a smoothness and elegance . . . unlike anything Brisbane - even Australia - has ever seen,’ will be approved with ‘world class’ conditions - the toughest ever - that will never be enforced but will be sufficient to overcome every possible objection. The Brisbane Times notes that ‘demolition . . . is expected to start this month’ – see: http://springbrooklocale.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/on-conditions.html
The unique 'world class' development
The main arterial road, Coronation Drive, bends around the site
One is reminded of a much smaller scheme in Corinda where major development works started prior to any formal documents being submitted to Council, and the BCC was not concerned about this at all. It did nothing. Pre-lodgement discussions seem to amount to pre-approval that gives confidence for such pre-emptive activity. What has been spoken about behind closed doors? Why not consult with the public before formalising a project? The Corinda prediction came true. The scheme was built with conditions that were, in part, ignored and never will be enforced: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/notes-on-development-application.html Should one expect any less with a project by ‘one of the world’s most famous architects’ being assessed in the context of the local cringe? Would Council be game to challenge this scheme and risk being mocked as a group of ignorant provincials? Such a response could go down in the Hadid history in much the same manner as Frank Lloyd Wright’s and Corbusier’s efforts to get something built in Venice have become legendary, to be recorded as Venice’s loss. Could a Pritzker Prize winner Dame ever be criticised by a mere local Brisbane planner? Given past experience with another large contentious project, the BCC will, in all probability, already be studying the submission and signing off its sections ready for the prompt formal approval, all, it seems, prior to any proper public review. Sadly, such public notification appears to have become merely a required, technical procedural matter rather than anything truly relevant. It seems to be virtually meaningless - a true insult to those who care.
The 'flutes' standing on 'coasters' in 'parkland'
Saarinen CBS Tower
The rendering of the towers reminded one of the classic International image - c.f. Sarrinen’s CBS black box that raised the question of semantics in architecture with the poor reading of the entry - but these Hadid structures narrowed at the base with an intertwining of what seemed to be described by Hadid as applied fake columns and screens: ‘a unique multi-layered façade design comprising a curtain wall glazing, overlayed with a quilted diamond pattern made from glass reinforced concrete.’ The reading of any entry still appears to remain an issue. She seemed rather apologetic about how beautifully ‘pretty’ and cunningly, artfully styled these forms were because she made a point of explaining why they were so shaped- “The design tapers each structure to minimise their footprint and to open the riverfront to the public - creating a vibrant civic space for Toowong within a new riverside park.” Mmmm. The image certainly shows the towers narrowing down at the base a little like champagne flutes, but it also seems to show blocks below these forms that have a much larger footprint than any part of the tower. To extend the analogy, these lower building masses look like layered coasters for the flutes to stand on, forms that clutter the site with their sprawling plan and surprising elevation - are these the villas? - leaving only a patchwork of dark blobs at various levels for one to interpret as being ‘open’ public parkland. Just what is intended? Is the public park reference merely a diversion, a ‘softener’? Are these words to placate?
'Public parkland' in the 'urban village'
Neighbouring riverside towers
It is difficult to get an idea of the scale of this project that is said to be 22 to 25 stories high with 486 apartments, (are there really about 7 per floor? - bedsits lower down?), with eight villas, and 635 cars, but by looking at the existing adjacent structures and knowing how large these forms loom over the river, the new towers are enormous - truly high. One never knows how accurate any drawing might be, but a quick count seems to suggest that there are 30 - 35 stories illustrated in this scheme. Either way, all of this is being squashed into a tiny site squeezed between the Brisbane River that floods, and the very busy Coronation Drive, the main vehicular thoroughfare feeding into the southern and western suburbs of Brisbane. It is also the direct route from the city to the University of Queensland and its surrounding residential areas of St. Lucia that are located on the point in the bend of the river opposite the hilly suburbs of West End, Dutton Park and Fairfield. Adding to the challenge to maximise the development of this site is the historic building that will be retained. Ironically, such gestures only allow more and more to be accommodated in a project, as some kind of reward when less and less might be better for historic integrity.
Traffic flowing along Coronation Drive
The site is framed on the northwest by Coronation Drive
Coronation Drive approaching the turn to Toowong shopping centre
The congested railway bridge turn into Toowong and the western suburbs
Images from Google Earth Street View
An enormous flow of traffic moves along the narrow multi-lane, arterial road, Coronation Drive, at all times of the day. Yet the text tells that 635 more cars will be accommodated on this site and will enter from/exit onto this thoroughfare. Gosh, what impacts will these vehicles have on traffic movements in this area that is already congested, slowed down by the road crossing at the rail bridge intersection at the right hand turn west just south of this location? Where will the cars be located on the site - below the waterline or above? We know how floods have affected riverside towers in other areas of Brisbane. Projects have been terminated because of these problems. How does the public parkland flow - ‘open up’ - with this dense conglomerate of needs: parking; villas; towers in a limited area?
The 'urban village'?
How does the civic place, the ‘urban village,’ fit into Toowong that has shopping street that is referred to as a village, and feels like one too? Do the words describing this project really achieve any cohesive reality? The ambition might be “to create a vibrant urban village which sensitively activates its urban and riverfront context through compelling architecture and landscape design,” but is this achieved? How? Words can cajole and mislead. The vision might be to “open up the site to the broader community through the creation of expansive public parklands, a riverside viewing platform and the transformation of Middenbury, (the historic house), into a meaningful public place,” but what might be the real experience of place? How does one get to it? One always has ‘to bridge (if we trace the word metaphor back to its Greek) the gap between what is and what really is.’ Thomas Lynch Booking Passage We Irish Americans Jonathon Cape, London, 2005. p.246, and hope that the gap is not too wide for ordinary comprehension to confirm. It must be remembered that this site is cut off from the rest of Toowong by a very busy road, and from the rest of Brisbane by the river. It is almost an island. Can it ever become ‘a vibrant urban village’? Should it? Is it intended to link this development to the city and its suburbs in any manner at all? Exactly what might the site hold other than 486 apartments, eight villas, and 635 cars to make it such an attractive, accessible public parkland/urban village?
The location for an 'urban village'?
The tower at the shopping centre opposite the development site
The shopping centre tower in context
The image is interesting. The boasting about the public park as civic place seems to suggest towers in a flowing field of green stretching, Corbusier style, as a radiant, open expanse to the water’s edge; but it looks more like towers surrounded by roof gardens and a narrow riverfront strip of land, probably extending the existing thin cycle-pedestrian path. Maybe not, since historically there has been a reluctance to continue this public access in front of the private property in this vicinity. The buildings illustrated to the right of this project include some odd fuzzy forms that do not seem to reflect what is actually there. One blurry white mass appears to be a structure that spans the road. To the left of the site, one can see the nearby residential tower, but the tower of the shopping centre opposite is nowhere to be seen. Is it to be so dwarfed that it will disappear? Has this image been photo-shopped to look pretty? The whole exercise appears to be about impressive style. Has the half-light of a late threatening storm been used to provide a dark grey, hazed Brisbane background that can be readily manipulated to suit required appearances? - see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2014/04/seeing-what-we-believe-idyllic-visions.html
The illustration of the buildings to the left (north)
The illustration of the buildings to the right (south)
Only a couple of weeks ago, the Brisbane City Council released its Kurilpa plan for public discussion: see - http://www.brisbane.qld.gov.au/planning-building/planning-guidelines-tools/neighbourhood-planning/neighbourhood-plans-other-local-planning-projects/kurilpa-riverfront-renewal The proposal illustrates a strategy to develop several selected blocks of riverfront land at Kurilpa Point, an area located on the opposite side of the Brisbane River, just downstream from this Toowong site. What does the city plan intend for this city that seems to be choosing areas randomly for separate consideration? What is the vision for this metropolis in, say, twenty, maybe fifty years’ time? What is the plan for traffic? What plans are there for open space; for living? What is the intent, the ambition for this settlement, its place: its genius loci? Is there a vision beyond selecting areas and approving projects on an ad hoc basis? One wonders: if ‘Grace of Coronation’ is to set the standard for Australia, why not plonk a few more of these structures on Kurilpa Point? Would more of the same make Brisbane more ‘world class’? Is the vision simply for a random Brisbane, to be left at the mercy of developers’ whims, waiting for another site to be grabbed and developed to bursting point irrespective of anything nearby or close, or even afar? Are ego and profit to become the most important issues in the promotion of a project? One article promoted the flamboyant image of Hadid that was displayed in Abu Dhabi years ago - see http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2012/04/o-gehry-oh.html The more recent photograph that showed a ‘different’ Hadid was not used - see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2014/07/vagina-architecture-its-only-matter-of.html Does anything other than reputation matter - image?
'Flutes' in 'parkland' creating a 'world class' 'urban village'?
This site has history: it holds a grim story, so grave that it closed down a major television station, forced it to relocate literally overnight in 2006 ‘after an apparent breast cancer cluster. Up to 18 women who worked at the site from 1994 to 2006 developed the disease.’ The report continues: ‘But with the site deemed safe for development by planning authorities, . . . ’ Just which authority deemed it safe? On what basis? When? Why? An enquiry into the situation seemed to suggest that matters were uncertain but serious enough for the ABC TV to be moved off the site very quickly, even before any new premises could be available. Did the ABC TV really have to go if it is certain that there are now no problems at all on this property; that this place can now become a ‘vibrant urban village’? Does this development declare itself to be the monument to this very unhappy circumstance being overcome? Is it a toast to this success - champagne flutes: chin chin? There remains a subtle irony in this project on this particular property being designed by a woman.
There is a touch of Dubai in this scheme: extravagant height; self- conscious design drama; tight sites; development squeezed into tiny, remote blocks to be promoted as an urban centre of a world city when things look more like an ad hoc clustering. Unless there is a plan for Brisbane, an integrated vision for this city, then Brisbane will become more and more like Dubai, a place of interesting, contrasting collections of strangely extreme forms new and old cluttered together whenever and however situations allow, sprawling out into voids as required. Is this Brisbane, subtropical living, or a clamouring for something vague like stylish ‘world class’? One thing that Brisbane might learn from Dubai is the importance of a good public transport system - a metro/underground.
The 'flutes' in context
The ‘Ha Ha Ha Hadid’ is not a mocking, laughing matter. It is more a stuttering in astonished disbelief. Life is more than the admiration of bubbles in champagne flutes, be these placed in urban parklands or anywhere else: and living is more than this too. Forms do have functions just as functions have forms. Flutes are formed for the best display of bubbles, not for ad hoc fun or random referencing. Just imagine the delight of living 20 stories high in one of these vessels, looking directly across to another ‘flute’ apartment at the same elevation, and down, up and across to over four hundred more, or less. Is it simply all froth and bubbles? Living is not a theatrical performance where one is invited to self-consciously and selectively parade and admire matters appropriately to stimulate the jealousy of others. We need to consider the real demands of life, its challenges, meanings, and its living rather than decorate our dreams with a pretty styling of artful form and fashion.
The Brisbane River frontage
The existing view from the river
Function may appear just bo-o-oring, but its poetry is as much a part of Sullivan’s refrain as the factual needs and demands are: ‘the function of the rose is the form of the rose: the form of the rose is the function of the rose.’ The ‘Internationalism’ in this scheme has been seen before, and has been severely criticised and discredited. Reshaping portions and redecorating them with applied shapes do not redeem the concept or the intent. Have we forgotten how to learn? One can see yet again views and vistas being diagonally barred by these ‘new’ architectural forms made fluid to look like flutes or flowers, shapes that are, so it appears, randomly applied over a skin for meta-appearance only.
Does it matter? To anyone concerned about the human spirit and its embodiment, enrichment and accommodation, the answer has to be “Yes.” This project for the ABC TV site needs to be carefully reviewed in the context, not only of its own ambitions and outcomes, but it also needs to be gauged against greater Brisbane, the visions for this city that once promoted itself a the ‘most liveable’ of all places, a marvellous ‘river city.’ How can one best live in this place? What form of accommodation might be the most appropriate for this settlement on a river that floods for it to flourish, to become itself in the best way possible: to be what it wants to be, not what individuals might choose for it, be this a ‘world class’ display or not. This city will only become more desirable and more beautiful if it is developed to enhance its own particular native context to achieve its own special charm, not by being embellished with random visions of some stylishly fashioned forms decorated to impress: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/town-planning-concerns.html
In some future time, will one drive to Toowong, pause in the traffic congestion and slowly crawl past ‘Grace on Coronation’ to see other folk trying to live in champagne flutes, and ponder: ‘There but for the grace of God . . .’? Grace indeed. Time is rarely good with fashions.
What should Brisbane be? What should Brisbane become? – see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2014/07/on-poppies-and-weeds-starchitects-and.html
Images of the site are from Google Earth and Street View
Images of the proposal are from the published illustration as supplied to the media
Champagne flute towers proposed for Toowong ABC site
September 1, 2014
brisbanetimes.com.au senior reporter
Toowong Towers are 'disgusting'
Three towers planned for Toowong don't "fit in" according to locals while the Premier would prefer a "wonderful riverside park". Nine News
Three glass towers resembling champagne flutes have been proposed for the Toowong riverbank on the site of the abandoned ABC studios.
According to a statement from developer Sunland, the towers in the Grace on Coronation project – ranging from 22 to 25 storeys - would collectively include 486 apartments and eight riverfront villas.
Sunland's proposal asks for 635 car parks, with about half of the 1.5 hectare site set aside for landscaped parklands.
An artist's impression of Sunland's proposed $420 million Grace on Coronation development.
The land was sold to the Sunland Group in 2013 for $20 million after being abandoned in 2006 after a cancer cluster scare.
Seventeen women who had worked at the site were diagnosed with breast cancer.
Sunland, which was behind the Gold Coast's Q1 apartment towers and the Palazzo Versace Hotel, has promised to protect the heritage-listed Middenbury house which is located on the same riverside park.
The Middenbury home appears to be set aside in a park at the front of the parcel of land, with the three apartment towers behind the heritage-listed home.
Middenbury, built in the 1860s and heritage listed in July, could become a cafe or gallery, although its future remains unknown.
Brisbane City Council is yet to consider the proposal for the $420 million residential tower development, named Grace on Coronation.
The application will be lodged on Monday, but the demolition of the now-abandoned ABC studios is expected to start this month.
The council will be asked to consider how Sunland's futuristic design fits an older residential and historic part of the city.
However, the company's architects and design team have had a series of pre-lodgement meetings with the council's neighbourhood assessment officers.
Sunland managing director Sahba Abedian said the proposed development would breathe new life into the historic riverfront site.
"Our vision is to create a vibrant urban village which sensitively activates its urban and riverfront context through compelling architecture and landscape design," Mr Abedian said.
"Importantly, it is a vision that opens up the site to the broader community through the creation of expansive public parklands, a riverside viewing platform and the transformation of Middenbury into a meaningful public space."
Mr Abedian said each of the three residential towers would feature a unique multi-layer facade design comprising a curtain wall glazing, overlayed with a quilted diamond pattern made from glass reinforced concrete.
"The result is an organic, sculptural design reminiscent of a flower in bloom," he said.
"The smoothness and elegance of the design is unlike anything Brisbane — or Australia — has ever seen."
Community consultation will be part of the application process, Sunland said on Monday morning.
The concept has been designed by Zaha Hadid, the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize and the founder of Zaha Hadid Architects.
"The design tapers each structure to minimise their footprint and open the riverfront to the public to create a vibrant civic space for Toowong within a new riverside park," she said.
Architect Dame Zaha Hadid unveils plans for Brisbane towers
SEPTEMBER 02, 2014
ONE of the world’s most famous architects, Dame Zaha Hadid, has unveiled the designs for her first Australian project, a $420 million series of apartment towers on the Brisbane riverfront at inner-western Toowong.
The project, Grace on Coronation, will be built on the site of the ABC’s former Queensland headquarters, which the public broadcaster left in 2006 after an apparent breast cancer cluster. Up to 18 women who worked at the site from 1994 to 2006 developed the disease.
But with the site deemed safe for development by planning authorities, Dame Zaha — the first woman to win the coveted Pritzker Architecture Prize — has launched into Brisbane with designs for three diamond-esque towers with a total of 486 apartments and eight riverfront villas. There will also be parking for 635 cars and landscaped public parklands.
The towers, being developed by Sunland Group, will have curtain wall glazing, overlayed with a quilted diamond pattern made from glass reinforced concrete.
Dame Zaha said the designs were more than just pretty. “The design tapers each structure to minimise their footprint and open the riverfront to the public, creating a vibrant civic space for Toowong within a new riverside park,” she said.
The Iraqi-British architect has designed iconic buildings including the BMW Central Building in Germany’s Leipzig and the London Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Olympics. She also penned the winning design for the 2022 FIFA World Cup stadium in Qatar.
Sunland managing director Sahbda Abedian said that the Toowong development would help establish Brisbane as a world city.
“We are confident this will set a benchmark for residential designs in Australia and not just in Brisbane,” Mr Abedian said.
The development application for the design was submitted to the Brisbane City Council yesterday. Mr Abedian hopes to win approval over the next six months, with construction to begin shortly afterwards. Sunland bought the site about a year ago for $20m.
Additional reporting: Mitchell Nadin