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Queensland Cultural Centre

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  • 602844
  • Grey Street, South Brisbane

General

Classification
State Heritage
Register status
Entered
Date entered
12 June 2015
Type
Recreation and entertainment: Entertainment centre
Theme
8.2 Creating social and cultural institutions: Cultural activities
Construction period
1976–1988, Cultural Centre
Historical period
1970s–1990s Late 20th century

Location

Address
Grey Street, South Brisbane
LGA
Brisbane City Council
Coordinates
-27.472736, 153.018359

Map

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Significance

Criterion AThe place is important in demonstrating the evolution or pattern of Queensland’s history.

The Queensland Cultural Centre is of outstanding importance in demonstrating the cultural and social development of Queensland in the late 20th century. Originally built in stages from 1976 to 1988, the aggregation of one complex housing the state's principal cultural institutions was a key milestone in the evolution of Queensland's history. In its form, function and uses, the Cultural Centre demonstrates a major government undertaking in facilitating the development of the arts, on a scale and level of sophistication unparalleled in Queensland's history.

The Cultural Centre is important in demonstrating the evolution of architecture in Queensland. Designed by Robin Gibson OAM (1930-2014), a prominent Australian architect of his time, it is an exceptional example of the late 20th century International Style. In its integration of building and landscape, the Cultural Centre demonstrates the evolution of landscape design in Queensland.

The Cultural Centre is an important Queensland example of a major urban renewal project of the late 20th century. The development and completion of the Cultural Centre dramatically transformed the existing built environment of South Brisbane and was a catalyst for the consolidated regeneration of the entire area, most notably through the revitalisation of the adjacent Expo '88 site, subsequently redeveloped as South Bank.

Criterion BThe place demonstrates rare, uncommon or endangered aspects of Queensland’s cultural heritage.

The Queensland Cultural Centre is unique as the first and only place purpose-built to house Queensland's principal cultural institutions in one complex.

Retaining a high degree of intactness and integrity, the Cultural Centre is an architecturally unique complex in Queensland, illustrated in its distinctive and pervasive design features, scale and size and intrinsic relationship to the Brisbane River.

Criterion DThe place is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a particular class of cultural places.

The purpose-built Queensland Cultural Centre is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a cultural complex. Easily accessible from the central business district, the Cultural Centre is located on a prominent site adjacent to, and connected with, the river. The Centre combines an art gallery, museum, performing arts complex and associated ancillary facilities on the one site, interconnected by outdoor plazas and boulevards and is notable for its functionality, planning and finishes.

A landmark architectural statement, its civic prominence within the capital city illustrates the Cultural Centre's function as the state's principal cultural complex. The monumental scale and form of the Centre reinforces the importance of its cultural, educational and social role as a venue for high profile cultural events in Queensland.

The Cultural Centre is an exceptional, intact example of the work of Robin Gibson and is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of his work. Most notably: the integration of building and setting; cohesive, simple low horizontal forms, clean lines and a limited palette of materials (high quality concrete, tinted glass and bronze metal work).

Criterion EThe place is important because of its aesthetic significance.

The Queensland Cultural Centre is of outstanding aesthetic significance to the state for its distinctive, architectural qualities, monumental scale, prominent siting and its many public art installations. These attributes make it a popular tourist destination and inspiration for photographers and artists.

It is a large, cohesive complex of buildings and spaces unified by its cubic forms, structural detailing and fine quality finishes, fixtures and furnishings. The restrained and sustained use of off-white sandblasted concrete throughout the complex, internally and externally, is a conspicuous and unifying element and is of a scale unique in a Queensland context.

The juxtaposition of intimate spaces and large volumes, and its many contemplative and restful interior and exterior spaces, in particular the water mall extending through the Art Gallery, and harmonising of the constrained landscape design to the architectural design, make an important contribution to the Centre's aesthetic value.

The Cultural Centre is a landmark within the capital city, lowset against the backdrop of the Taylor Range that skirts outer Brisbane. The open space - between the river and cultural facilities, the forecourt and plazas, contribute to the landmark quality of the complex, facilitating views to and from the river, the Victoria Bridge, the central business district and the surrounding streets in South Brisbane.

Criterion FThe place is important in demonstrating a high degree of creative or technical achievement at a particular period.

An outstanding, distinctive and highly awarded display of architectural excellence in the International Style, the Queensland Cultural Centre demonstrates a high degree of creative achievement in the late 20th century. Ambitious in scale and sophisticated in design, the place is a successfully realized architectural vision to create a unified landmark complex for Queensland's principal cultural institutions. Unprecedented in Queensland was the integration of building and landscape, comprising vegetation and water elements, used both internally and externally to counter-balance and soften the rectilinear geometry of the buildings. The Cultural Centre retains a high degree of intactness and integrity.

Criterion GThe place has a strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group for social, cultural or spiritual reasons.

The Queensland Cultural Centre has outstanding social value to the Queensland community as the home and physical embodiment of its principal cultural institutions.

Built for the people of Queensland and visited by millions of people annually, the ongoing use as a Cultural Centre is a fundamental aspect of its significance. The strong connection between the Queensland community and the institutions of the Cultural Centre, both individually and collectively occurs through experiences of the place; its setting, interconnected buildings, internal and external spaces and venues, and the events, exhibitions, performances and activities offered at the complex. An important contributing element is the use of the Cultural Centre as a popular social space and meeting point, and the use of the outdoor spaces for public engagement.

As the state's premier arts complex and as a major site for events, exhibitions, performances, activities and collections, the Cultural Centre has a special association with the arts community in Queensland.

Criterion HThe place has a special association with the life or work of a particular person, group or organisation of importance in Queensland’s history.

The Queensland Cultural Centre has a special association with the life and work of architect Robin Gibson OAM (1930-2014), who made an outstanding and influential contribution to the development of Queensland's built environment in the late 20th century. Gibson's achievements have been acknowledged through many awards including: Queenslander of the Year (1982); Sir Zelman Cowen Award (for public buildings) for the Queensland Art Gallery (1982); Royal Australian Institute of Architecture (RAIA) Gold Medal for outstanding performance and contributions (1989), and the 25 year award for Enduring Architecture (2010). Recognised as Gibson's most important project, the Centre embodies the defining modernist architectural principles he developed and employed during his architectural career.

The Queensland Cultural Centre has a special association with the Queensland Museum, Queensland Art Gallery, Queensland Performing Arts Centre and the State Library of Queensland, institutions which have, and continue to make, important contributions to the cultural development of Queensland.

History

The Queensland Cultural Centre (QCC), located on the south bank of the Brisbane River opposite the central business district, is the state's principal cultural venue and an important example of late 20th century modernist architecture. Constructed between 1976 and 1998, this ambitious complex, a milestone in the history of the arts in Queensland and the evolution of the state, was designed by renowned Queensland architect Robin Gibson in conjunction with the Queensland Department of Public Works, for the people of Queensland.

The Cultural Centre includes the Queensland Art Gallery (1982), the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (1984), the Queensland Museum (1986), the State Library and The Fountain Room Restaurant and Auditorium (The Edge in 2015) (1988). The substantially altered State Library and the Gallery of Modern Art are part of the broader cultural precinct but are not included in the heritage register boundary.

South Brisbane before the Queensland Cultural Centre (QCC)

By the late 1960s, much of South Brisbane, especially along the river, was in economic decline. Prior to European settlement, the whole of the South Brisbane peninsula was known as Kurilpa, an important meeting place for the Yuggera/Jagera people. The tip of the South Brisbane peninsula was a traditional river crossing. After the establishment of the Moreton Bay Penal settlement in 1825, convicts cleared the river flats to grow grain for the settlement and during the 1830s, timber from the south bank was exported to Sydney.

From the 1840s, South Brisbane developed as one of Queensland's key location for portside activity, initially advantaged by its more direct access to the Darling Downs and Ipswich. As maritime trade expanded, wharfs and stores were progressively established adjacent to the river. Over time, a range of commercial, light industrial and manufacturing activities also occurred, along with civic and residential land uses. The area prospered in the 1880s and South Brisbane became a municipality in 1888. Along with the development boom, a dry dock was opened in 1881, coal wharves and associated rail links were constructed and South Brisbane was established as the passenger terminus for suburban and country train lines.

By the end of the 19th century, the area had evolved into a substantial urban settlement, with Stanley Street a major retail centre and thoroughfare. Such development however, could not arrest a gradual 20th century decline which accelerated after World War II, influenced by the reorientation of economic activity and transport networks in Brisbane. Post-war, wharves, stores and railway sidings closed and were subsequently demolished, with the progressive relocation of shipping downriver. The decline of such a centrally located area in the capital city presented an opportunity for significant urban renewal.

Impetus for the Queensland Cultural Centre

The pressure to address the lack of adequate cultural facilities in Queensland increased in the 1960s, as public awareness of the importance of the arts to the cultural health of the community was rising. At this time, the Queensland's principal cultural institutions were located in buildings and sites in Brisbane that did not meet their existing or future requirements. The first purpose-built Museum had opened in William Street in 1879 but proved inadequate from the outset. It was converted to the Public Library of Queensland (the State Library from 1971) in 1900-02, after the 1889 Exhibition Building at Bowen Hills was converted for use as a Museum in 1900. From 1895, the Queensland Art Gallery was housed in the Brisbane Town Hall, moving in 1905 to a purpose designed room on the third floor in the new Executive Building overlooking George Street. When the new City Hall was completed in 1930, the Concert Hall at the Museum building was remodelled to house the art gallery.

Until the opening of the Queensland Cultural Centre, there were no Queensland government-operated performing arts facilities. Most musical and theatrical performances were initially held in local venues such as schools of arts, church halls or town halls, of varying suitability. Purpose-built facilities were limited and only erected in major centres. By the 1880s, Brisbane had four theatres, with the Opera House (later Her Majesty's Theatre), erected in 1888, the most lavish and prestigious, with seating for 2700. The Exhibition Building was one of the first buildings specifically designed for musical performances and contained a concert hall complete with a four-manual pipe organ. It became the centre for major musical events until the opening of the Brisbane City Hall in 1930.

Across Australia, the post-war era saw governments on all tiers commit to large projects related to developing the arts, including standalone and integrated landmark projects for institutions such as libraries, theatres and art galleries. Sites for such projects were often in centrally located areas, where previous uses and activities were in decline, or had become redundant. This type of urban renewal offered a blank slate for development, where the existing layout could be reconfigured and the built environment transformed. The construction of Sydney's Opera House had commenced in 1959; preliminary investigations for Adelaide Festival Centre started in 1964; the National Gallery of Australia was established in 1967; the first stage of the Victorian Arts Centre, the National Gallery of Victoria, was completed in 1969 and Perth's Civic Centre was also developed during the 1960s.

In Queensland, an earlier phase of civic construction (mostly town halls and council chambers) occurred in the 1930s, often incorporating spaces for arts and cultural activities. By the early 1950s, architect and town planner Karl Langer was designing civic centre complexes for larger regional centres such as Mackay, Toowoomba and Kingaroy.

Several attempts were made to secure stately cultural facilities in Queensland's capital but each came to nothing. Construction of an art gallery and museum near the entrance to the Government Domain, on a site granted in 1863, never eventuated. In the 1890s a major architectural competition for a museum and art gallery on a site in Albert Park sought to address the need for sufficient premises. In 1934, on a nearby site along Wickham Park and Turbot Street, an ambitious urban design proposal to incorporate a public art gallery, library and dental hospital resulted only in the construction of the Brisbane Dental Hospital. Post-WWII plans to incorporate the art gallery in the extensions to the original Supreme Court Building did not eventuate. The Queensland Art Gallery Act 1959 paved the way for a new Board of Trustees to establish a gallery with public funds subsidized by Government. The proposal at that time, for a gallery and performance hall at Gardens Point, to mark Queensland's centenary, was not realised; however, an extension to the State Library proceeded and included an exhibition hall and reading rooms.

A proposal for a State Gallery and Centre for Allied Arts, on the former municipal markets site adjacent to the Roma Street Railway station, formed part of a government backed plan for the redevelopment of the Roma Street area. Prepared by Bligh Jessup Bretnall & Partners in 1967, this substantial development over a number of city blocks, inspired by the redevelopment of redundant inner city areas in Europe and new towns in America, incorporated a significant commercial component. The plan was abandoned in 1968 due to conflicting local and state interests, together with the lack of an acceptable tender.

The following year, the Treasury Department initiated a formal investigation into a suitable site for an art gallery, led by Treasurer, Deputy Premier and Liberal Party Leader, Gordon Chalk. An expert committee, including Coordinator-General Charles Barton as chair, Under-Secretary of Works David Mercer and Assistant Under-Secretary Roman Pavlyshyn, considered 12 sites, including those from previous proposals. Three sites were shortlisted: The Holy Name Cathedral site in Fortitude Valley; upstream of the Victoria Bridge at South Brisbane; and the BCC Transport Depot in Coronation Drive. The South Brisbane site was preferred, considered to be the most advantageous for the city and the most architecturally suitable. The recommendation was accepted and work on progressing a design commenced.

Architectural competition and concept (1289)

In April 1973, Robin Gibson and Partners Architects won a two-staged competition to design the new Queensland Art Gallery at South Brisbane, with a sophisticated scheme considered superior in its simplicity and presentation. While this design was never realised, the art gallery that was built as part of the Cultural Centre was in many ways very similar, including the palette of materials and modernist design details inspired by the 1969 Oaklands Museum in California. The original design occupied the block bounded by Melbourne, Grey, Stanley and Peel Streets. Over Stanley Street, a pedestrian walkway connected the gallery to the top of an amphitheatre leading to sculpture gardens along the river.

The development of cultural facilities was reconsidered during 1974, evolving into a much more ambitious project. In early November, Deputy Premier Sir Gordon Chalk (who had a real interest and commitment to developing the arts in Queensland) announced as an election policy, a proposal for a $45 million dollar cultural complex. While the development of the Art Gallery had been progressing, Chalk, with the assistance of Under Treasurer Leo Hielscher, had covertly commissioned Robin Gibson to produce a master plan for an integrated complex of buildings which would form the Queensland Cultural Centre (QCC). The plan included an Art Gallery, Museum, Performing Arts Centre, State Library and an auditorium and restaurant. The devastating floods of January, which had further hastened the decline of South Brisbane, provided a timely opportunity to utilise more space adjacent to the river, through resumptions of flood prone land.

When the proposal was submitted to Cabinet by Chalk in late November, it was initially opposed by Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen. However, the support of Brisbane's Lord Mayor, Clem Jones, (who gifted council-owned allotments on what became the QPAC site); influential public servants Hielscher, Pavlyshyn; Mercer, and Sir David Muir, Director of the Department of Commercial and Industrial Development, helped the project gain momentum. After winning the December 7 election, the proposal was formally adopted by the Bjelke-Petersen government. Muir was appointed chairman of the planning committee and became the first chairman of the QCC Trust.

Gibson's November 1974 Cultural Centre master plan differed significantly from his winning competition design for the Gallery and gave Gibson the opportunity to further demonstrate his planning principles for inner city development. Stanley Street was to be diverted under the Victoria Bridge through to Peel Street, with the Art Gallery and Museum occupying one large block. The scheme included building forms with oblique angles to the street grid, to address the main approaches. The Performing Arts building, comprising a single, multi-purpose hall, and the Art Gallery, extending from the Museum to the river's edge, were aligned diagonally around a Melbourne Street axis to address the approach from the Victoria Bridge. Pedestrian bridges provided access across the site over Melbourne Street and to the South Brisbane Railway Station over Grey Street.

Gibson's design of the QCC sought to convey a relaxed atmosphere reflective of Queensland's lifestyle. A simple, disciplined palette of materials, and design elements was adopted and rigorously maintained throughout the lengthy construction program to unify the complex: off-white sandblasted concrete; cubic forms with deeply recessed glazing; a constancy of structural elements, fixtures and finishes; repetitive stepped profiles and extensive integrated landscaping.

A fundamental conceptual aspect of the Cultural Centre's design was its relationship to the Brisbane River and the natural environment. Gibson saw the Cultural Centre as an opportunity for ‘amalgamating a major public building with the river on the South Bank'. The external landscaping and built form was carefully articulated to ‘step up' from the river. The comparatively low form of the complex was consciously designed so that the profile of the Taylor Range behind would remain visible when viewed from the city.

Retaining the approved general placement of the individual buildings, subsequent changes to the complex plan included: the orthogonal realignment of each of the buildings; the duplication of the multipurpose hall to create separate purpose-built facilities for musical and theatrical performances; the extension of an existing diversion in Stanley Street upstream to Peel Street and under the Victoria Bridge, which was bridged by a wide plaza as a forecourt to the Gallery.

Robin Gibson & Partners

Robin Gibson (1930-2014) attended Yeronga State School and Brisbane State High before studying architecture at the University of Queensland (UQ). After graduating in 1954, Gibson travelled through Europe and worked in London in the offices of architects, Sir Hugh Casson, Neville Conder, and James Cubitt and Partners. Returning to Brisbane in 1957, he set up an architectural practice commencing with residential projects, soon expanding into larger commercial, public and institutional work. Notable Queensland architects employed by his practice included Geoffrey Pie, Don Winsen, Peter Roy, Allan Kirkwood, Bruce Carlyle and Gabriel Poole.

Gibson's creative, administrative and diplomatic talents were widely recognised. His buildings were consistently simple, refined, and carefully executed, often comprehensively detailed to include fabrics, finishes and furnishings. Characteristically crisp, logical and smoothly functional, his works employed a limited palette of materials and were carefully integrated into their setting.

Robin Gibson & Partners' contribution to Queensland's built environment is significant. Other major architectural projects include: Mayne Hall, University of Queensland (UQ) (1972), Central Library, UQ (1973) Library and Humanities building at Nathan Campus, Griffith University (1975), Post Office Square (1982), Queen Street Mall (1982), Wintergarden building (1984), Colonial Mutual Life (1984) and 111 George Street (1993). Over time, Gibson and his body of work has been highly acclaimed and recognised through numerous awards including: 1968 Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA) Building of the Year award, Kenmore Church; 1982 RAIA Sir Zelman Cowen Award (for public buildings) QAG; 1982 RAIA Canberra Medallion - Belconnen Library, ACT; 1982 Queenslander of the Year; 1983 Order of Australia; 1986 Honorary Doctorate - Griffith University; 1988 Advance Australia Award; 1989 RAIA Gold Medal for outstanding performance and contributions; 2000, and the 2007 25 year RAIA award for Enduring Architecture.

Construction and completion

The design development, documentation and the multifaceted construction program for the entire complex was administered by Roman Pavlyshyn, Director of Building, Department of Public Works. Pavlyshyn had previously overseen the selection of the site and had run the competition for the Queensland Art Gallery. The Cultural Centre was to continue the Department of Public Works' tradition in providing buildings of high quality in design, materials and construction throughout the state.

The funding of the QCC came entirely from the government-owned Golden Casket. The revenue derived from the Golden Casket was effectively ‘freed up' from health funding after Medicare was introduced by the Whitlam government. The then annual income of $4 million was projected to fund the QCC's construction over 10 years. By the early 1980s, inflationary impacts had blown out the cost to $175 million. Under Hielscher's guidance, Treasury looked at other ways to raise revenue. In response, Instant Scratch-Its and mid-week lotto were introduced to Queensland. This successful increase in gambling revenue enabled the QCC to be built at no extra cost to the state's existing budget and without going into debt.

The construction of the Cultural Centre was a complex undertaking and involved a multifaceted program staged over 11 years with a workforce of thousands, from design consultants to onsite labourers. Pavlyshyn guided Stages One, Two and Three to completion and the commencement of Stage Four, before retiring in July 1985. With the number of contractors and suppliers involved, quality control was a critical factor for a successful outcome. For example, the consistent quality of the concrete finish was achieved by securing a guaranteed supply of the principal materials, South Australian white cement, Stradbroke Island sand and Pine River aggregates, for the duration of the project and the strict control of colour and mix for each contract.

The program commenced with the construction of the Art Gallery, the most resolved of the building designs. Stage One also included the underground carpark to the Gallery and Museum and the central services plant facility on the corner of Grey and Peel Streets. Contractors, Graham Evans & Co, commenced construction in March 1977 and the Art Gallery was officially opened by Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen on 21 June 1982. When awarding the art gallery the Sir Zelman Cowen Award that year, the RAIA jury declared the art gallery would enrich the fabric of Brisbane for many years to come, praising: the sustained architectural expertise and masterly articulation of space; avoidance of rhetorical gestures and fussy details, noting the building would enrich the fabric of the city for many years to come.

A development plan for the largest component of the complex, the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC), built as Stage Two, was released in 1976. The project architect for the Centre was Allan Kirkwood from Robin Gibson and Partners and contributors to the development and design of the Centre were theatre consultants, Tom Brown and Peter Knowland, the Performing Arts Trust and user committees. Completed in November 1984 by contractors Barclay Bros Pty Ltd, a concert for workers and the first public performance were held in December ahead of the official opening by the Duke and Duchess of Kent on 20 April 1985.

The Centre comprised three venues, each specifically designed for particular performance types. The Lyric Theatre and Concert Hall shared an entrance off Melbourne Street with shared and mimicked foyers, bars, circulation and ancillary facilities. The Studio theatre, now the Cremorne, had a separate entrance and foyer off Stanley Street with its own discreet ancillary facilities.

The Lyric Theatre, (2200 seats) was designed for large-scale dramatic productions including opera, operettas, musicals, ballets and dance performances. It had an orchestra pit, stalls, two balconies and side aisles. The 1800 seat Concert Hall was designed for orchestral concerts, choral performances, chamber music, recitals, popular entertainment and ceremonies. A Klais Grand Organ, featuring 6500 pipes, was built into the stage area. Its ‘shoe box' form, designed to enhance natural acoustics, incorporated an orchestral pit, stalls, single balcony, side galleries and side aisles. The Studio Theatre was built to accommodate up to 300 seats for dramatic performances and could be configured in 6 different ways, from conventional set-ups to theatre-in-the-round. It had stalls and a balcony level with an internal connection to the other two theatres.

Opened in 1986, the Queensland Museum, (Stage Three), was connected to the Art Gallery by a covered walkway and to the Performing Arts Complex by a footbridge over Melbourne Street. The entrance on the Melbourne Street side of the building was accessed from street level and the Melbourne Street footbridge. Built over the Stage One carpark, the six-level Museum building had four floors open to the public, with the two top levels dedicated to offices, laboratories , library and artefact storage. The first floor was designed for a variety of uses, including lecture halls, back of house, preparatory area and workshops. Levels 2 to 4 showcased collections in galleries situated on either side of a central circulation core comprising walkways, stairs, lifts and escalators. The outdoor area contained a geological garden on Grey Street side (in 2014 the Energex Playasaurus Place). Stage Four included the State Library and adjacent restaurant and auditorium building (The Edge) completed in 1988.

Public artworks

As part of the construction of the QCC, several pieces of public art were commissioned from Australian artists. Five outdoor sculptures were purchased and installed in 1985, the largest commission of public sculpture at one time in Australia. Four were directly commissioned: Anthony Pryor's Approaching Equilibrium (Steel, painted. River plaza-upper deck); Leonard and Kathleen Shillam's Pelicans (Bronze. QAG Water Mall); Ante Dabro's Sisters (Bronze. Melbourne Street plaza) and Rob Robertson-Swann's Leviathan Play (Steel, painted. Melbourne Street plaza). Clement Meadmore's Offshoot (Aluminium, painted. Gallery plaza) was an existing work.

Other public artworks commissioned at the time of construction are located at QPAC: Lawrence Daws' large interior mural, Pacific Nexus and Robert Woodward's Cascade Court Fountain.

Use and modifications

Since opening, the institutions of the QCC have played a dominant role in fostering and enabling cultural and artistic activities of Queensland - through performances, exhibitions, collections and events. The purpose built world class facilities of the complex, with their careful consideration of both front and back of house requirements, have enabled Queensland to host national and international performances, events and exhibitions, and expand and display collections, in a way that was not possible previously. In addition to the QCC's artistic endeavours, the role of the Queensland Museum in science disciplines has also been an important activity. The QCC (as part of the larger Cultural Precinct) is a major visitor destination in Brisbane; millions of people from Queensland and elsewhere have visited the site.

The successful development of the Cultural Centre was the catalyst for the broader renewal of South Brisbane along the Brisbane River. In 1983 Queensland won the right to hold the 1988 World Exposition (Expo 88). The site for Expo 88 was directly adjacent to the Cultural Centre and underwent a major transformation to host the event. Robin Gibson designed the Queensland Pavilion. Expo 88 was a highly successful for Brisbane and Queensland. After Expo, the site was again comprehensively redeveloped, opening in 1992 as the South Bank Parklands, now a major public space in Brisbane. More widely, the Cultural Centre's direct relationship with the Brisbane River influenced the way the city has come to engage with its dominant natural feature along its edges.

With the exception of The Edge, each of the buildings within the QCC retains its original use. Subsequent modifications to cater for changing requirements have altered the buildings within the complex to varying degrees. The most significant of these changes were the addition of the Playhouse to QPAC and the multimillion dollar Millennium Arts Project, which provided for a refurbishment of the entire complex.

QPAC was well utilised from the outset and the need for a mid-sized theatre was soon realised. Plans for Stage Five, a 750-850 seat Playhouse theatre, designed by Gibson, were produced with input from the same committees and advisers as Stage Two. Completed in 1998, the Playhouse, attached at the eastern end of QPAC, incorporated stalls, balcony, mid-stalls and balcony boxes for patron seating. It had a separate entrance off Russell Street and was separated from the rest of the complex by the loading dock. The Playhouse was refurbished between 2011-12.

The key features of the Millenium Arts Project (2002-2009) were: the addition of a new Gallery of Modern Art and public plaza; the major redevelopment of the SLQ including the addition of a fifth floor; a new entrance to the QAG, and refurbishment of the QM and QPAC.

At the north-western end of the complex, the Gallery of Modern Art, completed in 2006 was built to house Queensland's growing art collection and is linked to the rest of the complex by a public plaza.

The major refurbishment of the Library in 2006 included the addition of a fifth storey and substantial alterations to both the interior and exterior. A new entrance and new circulation patterns were established and the stepped terraces were removed, replaced by a large extension toward the river.
New entrances to QAG and QM were designed by Gibson and completed in 2009.

The new art gallery entrance provided alternative access from Peel Street and included the partial enclosure of the courtyard, a new staircase, and a lift. At the Museum, in addition to the new entrance provided on the eastern end of the Museum, a café was added to the western end, the internal circulation was rearranged and a new entrance on the Grey Street elevation was created to provide access to the Sciencentre, relocated from George Street to the ground floor of the museum in 2009.

In 2009 QPAC was refurbished to meet safety standards and to improve access. A setdown area was added along Grey Street to replace the drop off tunnel which was closed in 2001. Changes to circulation included the installation of lifts and the replacement and reorientation of staircases. The lobby book shop was replaced with a bar and other bars and lobbies were refurbished, removing the salmon colour scheme in higher traffic areas. Brown carpet was installed and the red marble bar finishes were replaced with black in the Lyric Theatre foyer and white in the Concert Hall foyer. Many seats were also replaced in the Lyric and Concert Hall. The Cremorne Theatre remains largely unchanged.

The Edge, operated and managed by SLQ, was reopened in 2010 as a new facility containing workshops, spaces for creative activities, events and exhibitions. The dropped restaurant floor was filled and new lifts installed. Wide scale changes were made to interior fit-out and finishes. The auditorium floor was replaced, and new openings were created in the rear and side elevations. The external structure was modified at ground level with changes to access and the loading dock which was made obsolete by changes to SLQ car park entry. The major external change was cosmetic and involved the enclosure of the open verandah with pre-fabricated steel window bays to create riverfront study and meeting spaces.

Description

The Queensland Cultural Centre is an extensive low-rise complex comprising four cultural institutions, associated ancillary facilities and spaces located on the bank of the Brisbane River at South Brisbane. Set against the backdrop of the Taylor Range skirting greater Brisbane, the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG), Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC), Queensland Museum (QM), The Edge and the central services facility and connecting plazas and walkways retain a coherent architectural form. The reworked Queensland State Library (SLQ) building and the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) at the western end of the complex, are not considered to be of cultural heritage significance and are not included within the heritage register boundary.

The site, stretching more than 450m along the river, is bounded by Grey, Peel and Russell Streets and bisected by Melbourne Street, a major thoroughfare connecting South Brisbane to the CBD on the north bank via the Victoria Bridge. Across the site, the components of the Centre are connected by subway tunnels, external plazas, elevated covered walkways and a spinal bridge across Melbourne Street.

The complex is unified by a consistent architectural expression: repetitive cubic forms established through the use of a consistently applied and well resolved three-dimensional grid; monolithic, sand-blasted off-form concrete of superior quality; extensive use of deep shaded glazing; an elegant, expressed primary structure of rhythmic, regular elements; internal and external integrated planting and landscaping; and external public spaces with direct relationships to internal spaces.

Primary circulation between entities is organised around a pedestrian spine running from QPAC across Melbourne Street, between the QM the QAG (known as the Whale mall) and joining the plaza shared by the SLQ and GOMA.

The Queensland Cultural Centre is important for its:

  • Setting
  • Exterior form and finishes
  • Character of its external spaces: plazas, forecourts and circulation
  • Sequencing of its circulation routes and spaces
  • Character, form and finishes of its interior spaces.

Landmark

The Queensland Cultural Centre is a landmark complex. The buildings, individually and collectively, provide impressive visual interest, contribute considerably to the streetscape of South Brisbane and to the panoramic view from the Brisbane River and central business district.

Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC)

The largest individual component of the complex is QPAC, standing on the southern side of Melbourne Street. QPAC comprises four venues: Concert Hall, Lyric Theatre, Cremorne Theatre and Playhouse.

The major elements are clearly expressed in the building form. Two courtyards provide a setback from Melbourne Street, one accommodates the large, semi-circular Cascade Court Fountain, the other is landscaped and grassed.

The principal entrance is from Melbourne Street, providing access to the Lyric Theatre and Concert Hall; a secondary entrance from Russell Street accesses the Playhouse, and an entrance from the Cultural Centre Forecourt provides access to the Cremorne Theatre. The building is organised so the four venues back onto a shared, central backstage area accessed from Grey Street. The 'black box' volumes of the venues are wrapped by the main foyers overlooking Melbourne Street and secondary foyers along the sides to the river and Grey Street.

The multi-level foyers comprise a series of broad stairs passing through a variety of volumes. Expanses of glazing are shaded by vertical concrete fins supporting horizontal grids of stainless steel. These elements cast a bold, graphic pattern of light and shadow into the foyer, heightening the visual drama during the day. At night, the brightly-lit foyers are strikingly-presented through the tall concrete frames, visible from the surrounding area. A large wall within the grand staircase between the two largest venues prominently displays the Lawrence Daws mural Pacific Nexus. The bars are clad with boldly-coloured marble and from the foyers there are attractive views of the river and city as well as of other parts of the QCC.

The Concert Hall, an auditorium with a capacity of 1,6000 to 1,800 seats, is a long ‘shoe-box' space accommodating a stage, orchestra pit, upholstered stalls seating, a single rear balcony and long side galleries. The auditorium is designed for a long reverberation time, ideal for a big orchestral sound. The space is able to be varied acoustically to give appropriate acoustic definition to other modes of performance. Interior finishes include Johnstone River hardwood flooring and tiers, sand-blasted white concrete and veneered-plywood walls. A white plasterboard coffered ceiling incorporates theatrical lighting pods. The Concert Hall accommodates the Klais Grand Organ with its 6500 pipes arranged symmetrically as a central focus on the rear stage wall.

The Lyric Theatre, an auditorium with a proscenium stage and seating capacity for 2,000, accommodates an orchestra pit, raking stalls and two upper balconies of seating. Designed for a mid-range reverberation time ideal for opera, the space is able to be varied acoustically for light opera, musicals and drama by manipulating absorptive panels in the celling. Interior finishes include: colour-graduated velour house-curtain; carpeted floors and tiers; stained, veneered-plywood wall panelling; aluminium-tube lower ceiling and plasterboard upper ceiling; and upholstered theatre seating.

Cremorne Theatre, a flexible space with six configurations and seating capacity of 200-300, is an auditorium with a flat floor, moveable tiers of collapsible seating, moveable modular stage elements, an upper surround balcony with removable balustrade, lighting bridges, overhead props and lighting grid and control rooms. Interior finishes reflect the basic functional aspect of the space: timber floor, white plasterboard walls and ceiling, upholstered seating and dark acoustic curtains at the walls.

The Playhouse, a proscenium theatre with a capacity of 850 seats, accommodates stalls, mid-stalls, a balcony and balcony boxes for patron seating. Foyers address Russell Street with a corner bias to Stanley Street, with grand staircases and expressed lifts at each end and outside balconies to both foyer levels.

Ancillary spaces provide front and back of house facilities, dining, bars, ticket office, Green Room, dressing, rehearsal, administration and storage. Throughout, the building retains original furniture and fittings designed by Robin Gibson and Partners.

Queensland Art Gallery (QAG)

The Queensland Art Gallery, a three-storey building with extensive landscaped plazas and gardens, stands to the north side of Melbourne Street, and northeast of the Whale mall pedestrian spine. Standing above two levels of carparking (Levels 1 and 2), the building accommodates two storeys of public exhibition galleries with ancillary administration offices (Levels 3 and 4) and a storey of administration offices, art conservation workshops, and collection store room (Level 5).

The building and its plazas/gardens are integrated: large internal galleries are visibly connected to external sculpture gardens; and planterboxes are integrated into the structure internally and externally. To the riverside of the QAG stands a large landscaped plaza of flat lawns, concrete raised garden beds, and rectangular concrete pads falling to the river in a steep landscaped embankment. The plazas/gardens contain sculptures and fountains by important Australian artists including Approaching Equilibrium (Anthony Pryoro), Pelicans (Leonard and Kathleen Shillam), Sisters (Ante Dabro), Leviathan Play (Rob Robertson-Swann) and Offshoot (Clement Meadmore).

The original main entry to the gallery is from the riverside plaza. An entrance to the southeast corner is the primary approach for pedestrians arriving from the city across the Victoria Bridge. The "Robin Gibson Entry", a curved glass structure opening from the SLQ/GOMA plaza, is now the main entrance. On entry, visitors are drawn to the key orientation space, the Watermall.

The elegant, high-volume Watermall is parallel to the Brisbane River and runs the length of the building, visually connecting at each end with landscaped courtyards. The galleries are organised to flow in a logical fashion from one to another, sometimes through half-level floor changes. They have variously high, medium and low ceilings catering for the differing scale of exhibits and vary in enclosure to cater for installations, sound, light and audio-visual displays. The plan of the QAG is strictly organised according to function into long stripes parallel to the river. Long sight lines are had through many spaces, providing visitor orientation and anticipation, and a sense of openness in the large building.

The colour and material palette of the gallery is muted, mainly comprising white-painted, coffered concrete slab ceilings and plasterboard walls, large expanses of sand-coloured concrete walls and travertine floors. Differing floor finishes are important to the functioning of the galleries: substantial areas in general traffic zones are finished with large travertine slabs; travertine also runs in narrow bands along walls as a deterrent to touching the paintings; timber parquetry is extensive. The building retains original furniture designed by Robin Gibson and Partners.

Queensland Museum (QM)

Queensland Museum stands to the north side of Melbourne Street, and southwest of the Whale mall pedestrian spine. It is a seven-storey building accommodating four levels of public exhibition spaces; and provision for administration and research offices, a library and collection storage.

The monolithic, square-form building is a closed box providing a controlled climate for exhibits. A large, deep aperture is cut into the solid concrete wall on Grey Street and accommodates a dramatic, three-storey garden. Other elevations are generally solid. A plaza forecourt to Melbourne Street with broad concrete stairs provides the main entry to the building. A prominent, glazed, double-height escalator hall projects from the front elevation and leads up to the large, main foyer on Level 2.

The plan comprises large, open floor plates either side of a broad central spine of vertical circulation, voids and service spaces. The exhibition levels step at half levels to each other either side of the spine, allowing visitors to orient themselves and for a sequential experience of the exhibits. The exhibition spaces are varied in size to cater for a range of exhibit sizes. The offices on Levels 5 and 6 access generous garden balconies on the northeastern side with views across the lower QAG to the Brisbane River.

Accessed from Grey Street is an open-air loading dock, shared with QAG.

Ancillary services plant

Adjacent to QM stands a tall, detached ancillary building providing accommodation for a services plant providing shared mechanical services across QCC.

Cultural Centre Forecourt

The Cultural Centre Forecourt is a flat, open, landscaped plaza along the river edge to the southeast elevation of QPAC. The Forecourt provides a setting and view shed for QPAC and a direct visual connection to the Brisbane River. Stretching between Melbourne Street and Russell Street and measuring approximately 220m x 90m, the forecourt is a platform above an underground carpark. An open and flexible space, the Forecourt design responds to changing uses. The Forecourt provides access to the Cremorne Theatre and other functions of QPAC and the underground carpark beneath; the adjacent road accesses the underground carpark beneath QAG.

The fabric of the Forecourt is not of cultural heritage significance, its open, flat character as setting and viewshed for QPAC is of cultural heritage significance.

Pedestrian spine including the Whale Mall

A broad, concrete pedestrian concourse stretches from the Melbourne Street entrance of QPAC, bridges Melbourne Street, runs between QM and QAG, and joins the plaza shared by SLQ and GOMA. Between the QM and QAG it is a grand, axial spine known as the Whale Mall and comprises a high volume space lit by barrel-vaulted skylights, accommodates slit windows into the QAG and secondary entrances to the QM.

The Edge [State Library of Queensland: Fountain Room (former)]

The former Fountain Room, in 2015 known as The Edge, is a three-storey, rectangular building approximately 30m x 15m standing adjacent to the river. Pedestrian walkways link the building with the plaza shared with the SLQ to the northwest and the QAG riverside plaza to the south and provide access to the middle and upper levels of The Edge; the upper walkway is lit by square openings to the sky. The interior retains evidence of the original layout. The middle level accommodates a large, double-height auditorium; a smaller auditorium on the upper level opens onto an external gathering space. The gathering space comprises a flat lawn surrounded by a concrete planterbed balustrades and rectangular concrete pads.

References

Bibliography

ARCHAEO Cultural Heritage Services, Queensland Cultural Centre Cultural Heritage Assessment, Brisbane, 2001.

Architecture Australia, The Sir Zelman Cowen Award 1982: Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane; Citation: Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane; Canberra Medallion: Belconnen Public Library, Volume 71, Number 6, December 1982.

Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (fellows), Technology in Australia, 1788-1988: a condensed history of Australian technological innovation and adaptation during the first two hundred years, online edition, http://www.austehc.unimelb.edu.au/tia/387.html#1561 (accessed October 2014).

Department of the Arts, National Parks and Sport, Performing Arts Complex at the Queensland Cultural Centre, 1986 (held by State Library of Queensland).

Bligh Jessup Bretnall and Partners Architects, Plan for Redevelopment of Roma Street Area, City of Brisbane, State of Queensland, Department of the Co-ordinator General of Public Works, 1967.

Julie K Brown and Margaret Maynard, Fine Art Exhibitions in Brisbane 1884-1916, St Lucia: Fryer Memorial Library, University of Queensland, 1980).

Tom Brown & Associates; Robin Gibson & Partners; Peter Knowland; Queensland. Department of Works, Queensland Cultural Centre Performing Arts Complex: Report, 1976 (held by State Library of Queensland).

Geraldine Chua, David Wheeldon, Architects fight to protect Robin Gibson's iconic brutalist architecture in Brisbane, Architecture & Design, 30 September 2014, http://www.architectureanddesign.com.au/news/architects-push-for-heritage-listing-of-queensland (accessed October 2014).

Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, Queensland Historical Thematic Framework, 2011.

Ross Fitzgerald, Lyndon Megarrity, David Symons, Made in Queensland: A New History, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 2009.

Robin Gibson, Lifestyle and the Built Environment, Aquinas Memorial Lecture 1980, Australian Catholic University McAuley Campus Library 1980.

Lisanne Gibson, Joanna Besley, Monumental Queensland: signposts on a cultural landscape, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 2004.

Cameron Hazlehurst, Gordon Chalk: A Political Life, Darling Downs Institute Press, Toowoomba, 1987.

Heritage Victoria, VHR H1500, Victorian Arts Centre, http://vhd.heritage.vic.gov.au/vhd/heritagevic#detail_places;1067
(accessed January 2015)

Joanne Holiman, Sir Leo Hielscher: Queensland Made, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 2014.

Library Board of Queensland; Queensland. Department of Works; Queensland Cultural Centre Planning and Establishment Committee, New State Library building, 1975 (held by State Library of Queensland).

Peter Liddy, Geoff Ginn, Timothy Morrell, New Ground: Construction Photographs by Peter Liddy, Peter Liddy, 2007.
John Macarthur, Millenium Arts, Architecture Australia, March/April 2007.

National Trust of Queensland newspaper clippings, Queensland Cultural Centre, BNE 1/228.

Louise Noble, ‘Southbank Dreaming', Architecture Australia, September 2001 (Vol. 90 No.5)
http://architectureau.com/articles/south-bank-dreaming/ (accessed January 2001).

Colin O'Connor, William Jolly Bridge: A conservation study for the Brisbane City Council, 1994.

Freya Petersen, Jennifer King, Obituary: Robin Gibson, influential architect who helped reshape Brisbane, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-03-31/robin-gibson-brisbane-queensland-architect-designed-qpac-dies/5352028 (accessed December 2014).

Queensland Cultural Centre Trust, Queensland Cultural Centre Trust Photographs, Slides and Minutes 1977-1994, (held by State Library of Queensland).

Queensland Cultural Centre Trust (?) Queensland Cultural Centre: a cultural dream becomes a reality, Brisbane, 1985 (held by State Library of Queensland).

Queensland Cultural Centre architectural drawings, held by Department of Science Information Technology Innovation and the Arts.

Joe Rollo, Cecil Balmond, Concrete Poetry: Concrete Architecture in Australia, Cement Concrete and Aggregates Australia, NSW, 2004.

Charles Rowe, Michael Saunders, Robin Gibson and Brisbane's Cultural Precinct, Australian design review, 30 May 2014, http://www.australiandesignreview.com/architecture/43204-robin-gibson-and-brisbanes-cultural-precinct (accessed November 2014).

Royal Australian Institute of Architects, Queensland Chapter, application to enter the Queensland Cultural Centre in the Queensland Heritage Register as a State Heritage Place, 2014.

Royal Australian Institute of Architects, National Architecture Awards, 1981-2013.

Royal Australian Institute of Architects, Queensland Chapter, Chapter News, 1968-1986.

Department of Science Information Technology Innovation and the Arts, Submission in response to Application to Enter the Queensland Cultural Centre in the Queensland Heritage Register, October 2014.

South Australia Heritage Places database, Heritage Number 1370, Adelaide Festival Centre, http://apps.planning.sa.gov.au/HeritageSearch/HeritageItem.aspx?p_heritageno=1370 (accessed January 2015).

State Library of Queensland, South Bank: An historical perspective from then until now, South Bank Corporation, Brisbane, 2007.

Michael Stratton, Structure and Style: Conserving 20th Century Buildings, Chapman & Hall, London, 1997.

Jennifer Taylor, Australian Architecture Since 1960, The Royal Institute of Architects National Education Division, ACT, 1990.

Image gallery

Location

Location of Queensland Cultural Centre within Queensland
Licence
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Last updated
20 January 2016
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