The award-winning Midtown Centre in Brisbane’s CBD sets a new benchmark in adaptive reuse, demonstrating how to sustainably repurpose an underutilised, ageing commercial asset into a sophisticated, innovative and contemporary workplace with reduced environmental impact.

Designed by the innovative team at Fender Katsalidis, in an Australian architectural first, Midtown Centre breathes new life into abandoned structures, repurposing and combining two old, low-grade Queensland Government buildings into one 26-storey integrated modern workplace, within the boundaries of the buildings’ fabric, rather than demolishing and rebuilding.

The existing buildings (former Departments of Health and Forestry fronting Mary and Charlotte Streets) were connected by a full building join. This seamlessly links the existing slabs with a new infill, rather than using a traditional skybridge. It’s now one commercial office tower with a base podium of six storeys, a high rise section from levels 6-20 above the podium using the existing towers, and the addition of six new levels of commercial office space above that.

It is an exemplar of sustainable office space design.

Midtown Centre is 231% more environment-friendly through adaptive reuse, compared to demolishing and rebuilding. Ninety percent of the demolished materials were recycled, which meant a 37% CO2 reduction, equating to 11,000 tonnes of carbon saving. That’s equivalent to running the building fully occupied, carbon neutral for four years (net zero carbon emission).

“Innovation in architecture is paramount to reaching net zero emissions and by exploring the potential of what already exists, we have been able to significantly reduce the environmental impact a new build of this size would typically create,” comments Nicky Drobis, director, Fender Katsalidis.

The significant reductions across all environmental indicators saw it achieve the benchmarks of 5 Star NABERS Energy, 4.5 Star NABERS Water, 6 Star Greenstar rating, and the state’s first Silver WELL rated core and shell.

The material palette was informed by the warmth of the existing heritage bricks and concrete, and driven by Midtown Centre’s surrounding environment. The carefully-balanced palette includes bluestone slabs, natural timber finishes, terracotta masonry and warm concrete tones with pops of landscaped greenery.

The external facade is a mixture of old and new: the six-storey base podium incorporates and restores the heritage-listed Walter Reid facade on Charlotte street, and from level 6 onwards, the original facade was stripped and replaced with glass, its floor to ceiling windows attracting natural light and ventilation. A living, breathing green infill closes the gap between the two original buildings, creating a lush green seam running down the centre.

Landscaping is a central design component, bringing the building to life, clearly marking the transition between old and new structures, and supporting Brisbane City Council’s ‘Buildings that Breathe’ philosophy to drive productive, healthy workplaces. It’s a lush urban environment, which in addition to the green seam, has more than 3,000sqm of activated greenery across double-height sky gardens, mixed-mode atriums, and outdoor terraces and balconies on every level.

A new, internal, publicly-accessible laneway was created by connecting the two separate sites, running between Mary and Charlotte streets. It delivers on Brisbane City Council’s master plan for laneways and linkages of city blocks, providing a seven-block laneway connection through the CBD. The result is an elevated urban experience, activating a laneway culture with retail and hospitality spaces, including two coffee shops, an all-day eatery and a pastry kitchen, delivering a highly permeable public realm at street level. Midtown Centre’s laneway offers a relaxed environment for staff and customer catch-ups, with breakout spaces for informal gatherings, and also doubles as a canvas for local Queensland and Australian artists, continuing the city’s art trail.

“Midtown Centre’s laneway is an open and welcoming part of the city that has activated the city block, seven days a week. It has transformed the way people work and travel through the site,” says Nuno Dias, associate principal and Midtown Centre project architect.

Brick paving - Midtown Centre

Robertson's Building Products supplied the slimline Albicocca Arazzo bricks as a tactile and robust paving solution, creating a public, yet resilient and welcoming laneway to support the movement of people through it for many years to come. The brick and its natural terracotta tones worked harmoniously with the earthy and natural scheme used throughout the building, providing warmth, character and authenticity. “We also loved its texture and layout flexibility, and we really liked the rhythm and contrast it could create with our other materials,” comments Dias.

Midtown Centre’s modern building design offers flexibility and interconnection via external terraces, mixed-mode atria and collaborative environments. In fact, from level six to 20, there are 18,000sqm of continuous floorplates, expanding the typical office floorplate to enhance the net lettable area from 26,000sqm to 46,000sqm, and enabling the building to house 3000 to 4000 workers.

“Existing buildings in Brisbane often can’t offer the space required to attract larger businesses so by merging the two mirrored towers, we were able to design a single building that can accommodate the expanding commercial network in Brisbane,” explained Drobis.

Midtown Centre puts the health and wellbeing of its workers first, providing incredible amenity. This includes Wi-Fi-enabled landscaped gardens on levels 6 and 20, the naturally ventilated atriums and sky terrace garden on level 20, state-of-the-art end-of-trip facilities to support active transport options (770 lockers, 550 bikes and 56 showers), a complementary wellness centre, as well as catering and event spaces, and a car park.

The entire team is to be congratulated for not only delivering an A-Grade commercial building, but also for setting a new benchmark in architecture, sustainability and innovative design. Drobis sums this project up remarkably well, concluding: “Australian cities are ever-evolving and architecture has always been a medium that echoes change. The design of Midtown Centre represents adaptive, sustainable commercial buildings for Brisbane’s future.”

Midtown Centre’s awards list is extensive:

  • Property Council Innovation & Excellence Awards, Winner – State Development of the Year, 2023
  • Urban Development Institute of Australia National Awards, Winner - Urban Renewal, 2023
  • Australian Institute of Architects Brisbane Regional Awards, The Lord Mayor's Buildings That Breathe Architecture Prize, 2022
  • Urban Development Institute of Australia QLD Awards, Finalist - Best Development, 2022
  • Urban Development Institute of Australia QLD Awards, Finalist - Urban Renewal, 2022
  • Master Builders Queensland Housing and Construction Awards, Winner - Commercial Construction - $50M+, 2022
  • The Urban Developer Awards, Winner - Excellence in Sustainability, 2022
  • The Urban Developer Awards, Winner - Excellence in Design Innovation, 2022
  • The Urban Developer Awards, Finalist - Development of the Year - Commercial, 2022
  • The Urban Developer Awards, Finalist - Development of the Year - Urban Regeneration, 2022
  • Sustainability Awards, Finalist - Adaptive Reuse (Alteration/Addition), 2022
  • Sustainability Awards, Commercial Architecture (Large), 2022
  • Australian Institute of Building Queensland Award for Commercial Construction $25M-$50M (Rio Tinto Fitout), 2022
  • Australian Institute of Building Queensland, High Commendation for Commercial Construction >$60M, 2022
  • 2022 Australian Institute of Building Queensland High Commendation for Commercial Construction >$60M

Project details

Architect: Fender Katsalidis

Interior Design: Fender Katsalidis

Developers: AsheMorgan & DMANN Corporation 

Product: Albicocca Arazzo bricks (500 x 42 x 30mm)

Builder: Hutchinson Builders

Landscaper: Lat27

Photography: David Chatfield