“To create a city with legacy is to create a city that provides its people with spaces that are memorable, connected, legible and occupiable,” says Megan Rodgers, principal and Brisbane studio leader, Fender Katsalidis.

So how does Brisbane measure up to this description? Known for its desirable subtropical climate and a lifestyle that embraces the outdoors, the city has been developed along the meandering Brisbane River, with the CBD sitting neatly within the elbow of the river bend. However, the urban fabric that weaves together the building stock within the CBD lacks the continuity and connectivity that is typical of a human-centric global city.

Brisbane’s CBD is also home to a significant quantity of aging building stock, ranging from the tired to the deteriorating. If developed with consideration of its climate and placemaking, Brisbane is ripe for renewal and adaptation into a people-centric global city, says Rodgers. And this can be achieved through ‘adaptive reuse’ rather than demolition.

A term used to describe the practice of reutilising an existing building, oftentimes for a purpose other than what it was originally designed for, adaptive reuse is an effective and sustainable strategy for optimising the operational and commercial performance of built assets. Most importantly, it breathes new life into a building or asset that is no longer fit for purpose in its current state.

Brisbane’s Midtown Centre sets the benchmark for adaptive reuse. Designed by Fender Katsalidis, Midtown is the result of a rare opportunity where two city blocks had adjacent buildings under the same ownership and facing one another. This allowed the architects to integrate the two buildings using a campus-style approach, maximising the cross-city connections for landlocked city blocks.

The Midtown project was recently recognised by the Australian Institute of Architects for its exemplary repurposing of two underutilised assets into an innovative, contemporary workplace with minimised environmental impact.

Adapting underutilised or end-of-life structures can take on various forms. For instance, it may involve the removal of entire facades, strengthening of structure and core, upgrading existing building services, vertical additions or change of function appropriate to the market demand.

Repurposing a building through adaptive reuse depends primarily on its suitability to adapt, with factors such as the core value of the building, development and uplift potential, structural integrity, sustainable effectiveness and financial viability coming into play.

Compared to a demolish-and-rebuild scenario, Midtown Centre’s adaptive reuse and infill achieves a 37 per cent CO2 reduction compared to a new build. Equating to 11,000 tonnes of carbon savings, it is equivalent to running the fully occupied building carbon neutrally for four years. With 3,000sqm of landscaped areas, the building also contributes to the greening of the city.

Looking beyond the opportunities for uplifting Brisbane’s decaying assets, is the potential to repositioning the ground plane and reimagining the streetscape relationship in a manner that establishes new cross-block connections and ‘ant trails’ at the pedestrian level, Rodgers noted.

With Midtown Centre and the proposed 133 Mary Street Annex building, Fender Katsalidis has the unique opportunity to influence the ground plane on adjacent city blocks.

Situated on opposite sides of Mary Street and connecting the ground plane between Edward and Charlotte, these buildings house an integrating laneway network that runs throughout other parts of the city, improving connections and interweaving the urban landscape. Actively promoting such initiatives holds the key to improving Brisbane’s groundscape legibility and urban connectivity, says Rodgers.

All built forms inherently retain a unique story, and their removal eliminates connection to place – an aspect that isn’t often considered when knocking down a structure that isn’t heritage listed. Redevelopment through adaptive reuse illustrates that history, while updating the asset to suit the needs of today and a more sustainable tomorrow.

Adaptive reuse will increasingly replace demolition in the coming years; however, Brisbane has a much greater challenge for itself in delivering a viable future that aligns with the anticipated population growth over the next decade.

“With the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic games, Brisbane needs to be prioritising the city’s legacy for an effective, efficient, sustainable and liveable city that extends well beyond a one-month window,” concludes Rodgers.

Image credits: Angus Martin & David Chatfield