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    Robin Gibson’s Queensland icons now heritage listed; controversial high-rises opposed

    Geraldine Chua

    Lead image: Queensland Art Gallery forecourt

    The much-opposed decision to build high-rise towers at Brisbane’s South Bank Cultural Precinct has been halted as heritage listings are given to four of the site’s iconic buildings – the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC), Queensland Museum, Queensland Art Gallery, and The Edge at the State Library of Queensland. 

    All four buildings were originally designed by the late architect Robin Gibson, and built in four stages between 1976 and 1988. They are some of Gibson’s most celebrated works, and widely recognised as a unique part of Brisbane’s skyline.

    The decision, made on Friday, June 12, was welcomed by Queensland’s Palaszczuk Government and the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA), who in 2014 nominated the Queensland Cultural Centre (QCC) precinct to be heritage listed for its cultural significance to the local landscape. 

    This nomination attracted a record 1,254 public submissions – the most received by the Queensland Heritage Council for a single nomination in the history of the Heritage Act – and although a noteworthy number, isn’t one that surprises, considering the amount of opposition faced by the former Newman government when they released plans to build two 30-storey towers above QPAC and the Queensland Museum expansion.

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    ^ Under the draft master plan, two new towers spanning 80,000sqm were proposed to be used as hotels, offices or apartments


    RELATED:New towers and theatres for Brisbane cultural precinct under draft master plan by Cox Rayner and Urbis


    Robin Gibson’s family, in particular, took issue with the proposed changes, with Gibson’s wife Jane believing that the towers would irrevocably alter the precinct. 

    “It seems an inappropriate use of space,” she had said in an interview with the ABC. “Part of the ideology of the building was to have a low-rise set with the mountain ranges behind – well, that will be completely obliterated [if the towers are constructed].”

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    ^ QPAC opening celebrations, Brisbane

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    ^ Gibson’s South Bank buildings were designed to draw Brisbane’s eye towards the river. When considering the design of what ultimately became QPAC (pictured above), the well-known architect had mused that the architecture would set the stage for performances with its ever-changing levels and drama of the foyer spaces.

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    ^ His art gallery design, which enclosed a contemplative pool using light-coloured, low maintenance materials, paid homage to the city’s subtropical environment. It was prized the Sir Zelman Cowen Award for Architecture in 1982. Images:  ABC News - Giulio Saggin


    RELATED: Architects fight to protect Robin Gibson’s iconic brutalist architecture in Brisbane


    While the listing does not prevent the buildings from being altered, President of the AIA – Queensland Chapter, Richard Kirk, says it will require any future amendments to be done in a “careful and sensitive manner that does not devalue their integrity as exceptional and important pieces of Australian architecture”.

    Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection, Dr Steven Miles, added that the listing would ensure any changes to the Precinct remained “true to the spirit of its original design”.

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    ^According to the AIA’s heritage application, the QCC is a “nationally pre-eminent example of Brutalist architecture, an aesthetic movement which was important in the second half of the twentieth century as a reaction to the abstraction associated with international modernism”

    The listing excluded the original State Library, which has been redeveloped, as well as the Gallery of the Modern Art which opened in 2006. 

    The Cultural Precinct Master Plan, an initiative of the former Newman Government, will now be reviewed, and Arts Queensland will commission a Conservation Management Plan to inform future planning and investment in the area. 

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