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    Balancing scale and character through materiality

    Liam Proberts, Founder and Managing Director, Bureau Proberts

    As urbanisation continues, there is an increasing need for greater diversity of housing options in the city. To meet this demand and maintain a healthy, functioning city, medium and high-density residential developments are vital. However, the risk with high-density developments is that they can be devoid of character or a sense of place or identity. In this regard, we need to be adventurous in finding solutions that exceed client expectations and make a positive contribution to the city.

    You don’t have to spend lots of money to produce liveable, quality developments, however, efficiency is crucial to effectively meet clients’ needs. When you’re investing so heavily in a major piece of infrastructure, efficiency must be a prerequisite. It doesn't make sense to be wasteful.

    When I talk about efficiency in high-density residential developments, I mean the creation of living spaces at scale, as well as the efficiency of construction methodologies and materials used in the build.

    Efficiency is necessary, but it’s also a challenge. We like to bring a sense of character and uniqueness to our design and material selection by putting ourselves in the shoes of a potential resident. When you’re designing at scale, variation and efficiency are at odds. For a development of 300 apartments, you may need to design 20 different apartment variations to create a connection to the space for users. It can be difficult to do this efficiently.

    Materiality and the way you work with materials allows you to create that identity.

    We often look to materiality and the construction methodology to create a sense of identity. We do this by exposing a material’s authenticity, or drawing a connection to the local area.

    DRAWING A CONNECTION TO THE AREA

    IL1608_Liam_M-A_2.jpg
    M&A features a pedestrian laneway as a thoroughfare, that activates the ground plane by creating a retail and residential mix. The brickwork aesthetic is a tribute to the brick warehouses, factories and service buildings that dominate the valley’s landscape. Photography by Christopher Frederick-Jones

    The market is looking for clearly identifiable designs that say something about the local area. By drawing a connection to the area through the material selection, residents feel like they’re part of a local lifestyle and a community.

    McLachlan & Ann (M&A) is a mixed-use, master planned development located in the near city location of Fortitude Valley. The project successfully infused a strong visual identity in an efficient, high-density development that creates a sense of place that people can relate to.

    Our approach with M&A was to use affordable and available recognised materials and put them together in a buildable way that is unique and identifiable.

    Simple materials of painted pre-cast concrete and metal cladding and screens reflect the industrial heritage of the area and allowed efficient construction of the 290-apartment tower.

    The painted pre-cast concrete elements enabled public art and facade treatments that provide a distinctive identity for the precinct through a colour scheme that evokes memories of Brisbane’s backyards, the heritage of the Valley and hidden artworks to provide a sense of memory for people who explore the lane.

    The development also features a pedestrian laneway as a thoroughfare, that activates the ground plane by creating a retail and residential mix. The brickwork aesthetic of the laneway is a tribute to the brick warehouses, factories and service buildings that dominate the valley’s landscape.

    In designing our latest boutique residential development, Walan, we wanted to design something truly special for the residential market. We asked ourselves ‘how can we create a home in an urban residential tower?’

    Instead of thinking of them as apartments, we thought of each floor like a house in its size and connection to the outside. What we set out to achieve was a contemporary ‘Queenslander in the sky’ with all rooms opening to a veranda edge, providing cross ventilation while maintaining privacy.

    The unique façade references the river’s edge and draws on the fissures and openings of the surrounding cliff embedding the building in the landscape of Kangaroo Point. This connection to the cliffs is continued internally, using carefully selected travertines and natural stones for benchtops and wall features throughout.

    This entirely-glass building engages with the landscape with specially-designed screening that provides a veil between living space and external spaces, while modulating the light and heat of our sub-tropical environment.

    At this high-end of the market, we can also get direct feedback from potential buyers. They have a preference for timber floors because of the softer, home-like feel. However, to avoid the high maintenance of external timber floors on balconies at scale, the internal timber floors will transition to an external tiled floor instead.

    To extend the sense of ‘home’, each residence also has a unique, pocket garden reminiscent of a more suburban garden, whilst referencing the cliff and river-scape of the immediate area.

    IL1608_Liam_M-A_1.jpg
    The strategy for M&A was to knit the development with the streets, laneways and edges of “the valley” and create a character that is relevant and of its place. Photography by DC8

    IL1608_Liam_walan_1.jpgWalan was designed as a ‘Queenslander in the sky’, with all rooms opening to a veranda edge, providing cross ventilation while maintaining privacy. Image: Render House

    MATERIALITY TO CREATE AUTHENTICITY AND IDENTITY

    IL1608_Liam_Silt_1.jpg
    Silt was an experiment in finding an effective way to use materials to create character and a beautiful place to live. Photography by Christopher Frederick-Jones 

    As a practice, we have a preference for expressing the quality of materials and their function to create a much more authentic design. When we can express the concrete, timber, brickwork, aluminium, or any material, in its raw form, it adds to the design identity and allows residents to understand how the building was made.

    As our first major development with no painted surfaces, Silt was an experiment in finding an effective way to use materials to create character and a beautiful place to live. Influenced by the fabric of the industrial built-form surrounds, Silt is comprised entirely of raw concrete, glass, natural cedar blades and powder-coated or shop-finished aluminium.

    IL1608_Liam_Silt_3.jpg
    Silt is exposed internally to allow for interesting internal spaces and connections to the outside. Photography by Christopher Frederick-Jones

    The tinted glass and concrete clad exterior create an intriguing façade that entices people to want to see what’s inside. To do this efficiently, we worked with pre-cast concrete suppliers to source semi-repetitive designed panels that weren’t super costly. We also had to work with manufacturers of glazing systems that worked within a standard reign, that we could use in a slightly different way.

    The internal spaces are designed around an internal timber veneer clad pod, housing the kitchen, laundry and powder room, and surrounded by living and private spaces.

    The pod’s surface compliments the building materials of exposed concrete and timber screening, which are both used internally. All the finishes are based on a natural palette in both colour and material, with the construction of the building exposed internally to allow for interesting internal spaces and connections to the outside. The colour of the internal precast concrete wall reflects the nearby river and creates a beautiful connection to the landscape.

    IL1608_Liam_Silt_2.jpg
    The internal spaces of Silt are designed around an internal timber veneer clad pod. Photography by Christopher Frederick-Jones

    IL1608_Liam_Hero.jpg
    Silt matches colour, texture and unedrside height of the adjacent

    MATERIAL TEXTURES AND PATTERNS

    Material textures and patterns can also be used to create character. Our Newstead Series apartments and townhouses, currently under construction, were designed to create the feeling of a permanent home. We used high-quality fittings and furnishings that give a sense of luxury and are designed to last, just as we would with any premium single residence.

    Extensive use of glass creates spacious, light-filled internal spaces, while the façade is decorated with intricate metal screens and patterned brickwork for the dual purpose of creating a sense of identity for the townhouses and providing maintenance-free protection from the Western sun. Bricks are readily available in standard run and colour, and laid in a familiar bond but placed in a way that creates pattern, light, shade and decoration. 

    IL1608_Liam_Newstead_1.jpg
    The Newstead series use common building materials in unique textures and patterns to create a bespoke, custom appearance akin to detached dwellings. Image: Binyan

    IL1608_Liam_Newstead_2-3.jpgInside, high-quality fittings and furnishings will give occupants a sense of luxury, just like any premium single residence would. Image: Binyan

    ART IN ARCHITECTURE TO CREATE A POINT OF DIFFERENCE

    IL1608_Liam_M-A_3.jpgBureau Proberts used different coloured panels fixed to the underside of horizontal aluminium louvre blades to create the word ‘seen’ on their M&A project. Photography by Christopher Frederick-Jones

    Material textures and patterns can also be used to create character. Our Newstead Series apartments and townhouses, currently under construction, were designed to create the feeling of a permanent home. We used high-quality fittings and furnishings that give a sense of luxury and are designed to last, just as we would with any premium single residence.

    Extensive use of glass creates spacious, light-filled internal spaces, while the façade is decorated with intricate metal screens and patterned brickwork for the dual purpose of creating a sense of identity for the townhouses and providing maintenance-free protection from the Western sun. Bricks are readily available in standard run and colour, and laid in a familiar bond but placed in a way that creates pattern, light, shade and decoration. 

    IL1608_Liam_M-A_4-4.jpg
    Art can disguise the robustness of large scale developments. Photography by Christopher Frederick-Jones

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