The University of Queensland (UQ) is unhappy with Brisbane City Council's decision to approve an Architectus and WOHA-designed apartment building for Queen Street on the Brisbane River and has launched a legal challenge to have the proposal chucked out.

The $375 million, 47-storey building at 443 Queen Street was approved by Council on 22 December because it complied with the City Centre Neighbourhood Plan code, but UQ is now fighting that decision and has lodged an application for hearing with Brisbane's Planning and Environment Court.

The problem for UQ is that the subject site is of heritage significance and the Development Application should have undergone an Impact Assessment rather than Code Assessment which would have required public submissions and the completion of an Integrated Development Assessment System (IDAS) form.

Artist impression and elevation show proximity to Customs House. Images: Brisbane City Council

The Land is located immediately adjacent to the Brisbane Customs House, the construction of which was completed during the years 1886-1889 and which is entered on the Queensland State Heritage Register. UQ, who are the registered proprietor of Customs House, says WOHA and Architectus’ plan subverts a number of the provisions in the City Centre Neighbourhood Plan code designed to protect Customs House and that it would not have been approved had it been subject to an impact assessment.

The project would usually have undergone an impact assessment had the developers Cbus Property not taken advantage of a planning mechanism called transferrable site area (TSA). TSA allows building height development potential to be transferred between sites owned by the same developer within the same area of the city, and in this case, allowing Cbus to transfer maximum height code assessment from a neighbouring site they own to 443 Queen Street.

When Cbus were asked to submit an IDAS form back in November 2014 they declined because they believed their proposal didn’t exceed the maximum developable gross floor area above maximum podium height and therefore should be code assessed. They also advised the council that they had acquired 300sqm of TSA from National Australia Bank - Queensland National Bank, 308 Queen Street, Brisbane City allowing 443 Queen Street’s building height potential to be transferred.  

UQ’s biggest beef is that Cbus took advantage of a mechanism designed to preserve Brisbane’s heritage sites to effectively do the complete opposite. They called the DA “piecemeal and unlawful”.

"In broad terms the purpose of (transferable site area) is to encourage the preservation of heritage sites," reads their application to the court.

"The effect of the purported approval is to subvert, rather than comply with, the stated intent and express assessment criteria of the planning scheme.”

"Further, the addition of the TSA has ostensibly impermissibly made the application no longer subject to impact assessment, and thereby excludes the custodian of the Brisbane Customs House (UQ) from being able to exercise the right which it would have otherwise been lawfully entitled to, to challenge the council's decision to approve the development application."

UQ’s application is due to be heard at the Planning and Environment Court on 29 January.


Looking accross the river from Kangaroo Point. Image: Brisbane City Council

443 Queen Street has been pitched as Brisbane’s “first truly subtropical apartment tower” designed as a habitable, living subtropical garden. Not unlike WOHA’s landmark project for the Parkroyal in Singapore, the building is designed to be ‘porous’ with an elevated podium to allow easy pedestrian from Queen Street to the riverside and a variety of fluted tower columns rather than a single tower form.

It will rise to 188 metres high (to apex) which includes six levels of tree-covered above ground carparking, a two-storey recreation deck and 40 levels of apartments.

The stone walls and vegetated-edges of the podium are designed to talk to the neighbouring Customs House and its famous heritage Fig tree. It has been elevated so not to impose on pedestrian views of Customs House and to allow a flood protected carpark.

WOHA says the ‘separated cluster’ arrangement of the towers will encourage views through the site, and will form attractive spatial relationships with the surroundings.

“The building appears as two slender clustered towers with space between emphasizing light, air, greenery, views growing out of a lush subtropical riverside topography and landscape,” reads the Development Application.

“These smaller forms reduce the length of wall planes, giving an elegant verticality and a sense of domestic scale.”

The towers will feature clusters of hanging gardens and breezeways as well as delicate screens, trellises and shading plants, a materiality that WOHA says contrasts standard apartment solutions with their impermeable, flat wall faces akin to mechanically ventilated, sealed commercial buildings.

Images: Brisbane City Council