Plans to build a casino on top of a historic civic precinct in Brisbane have been met with scepticism and alarm by several prominent figures in the city, including a former government architect.
The Queensland State Government has announced the preferred tenderer for the redevelopment of Queens Wharf Brisbane, a state-owned site on the Brisbane riverfront opposite the South Bank precinct, into a $2 billion casino resort.
The Destination Brisbane Consortium with lead architects Cottee Parker Architects were chosen to develop the site, which marks the place where colonial Brisbane began.
The proposed new development, which will include over 2,000 apartments and 20,000 square metres of retail space, will sit over nine hectares of Brisbane’s historic civic precinct with a cluster of government buildings.
“This decision will mark the largest staged construction development in Brisbane City since the evolution of South Bank,” said Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.
But experts are questioning the location of a casino resort on the riverfront site.
“This is the city’s oldest and most symbolic precinct,” said Richard Kirk, the Australian Institute of Architects’ Queensland Chapter president. “The Brisbane city grid is a very tight city grid, and large format buildings like casinos don’t sit well in fine-grained city centres.”
“Cities that are desirable are walkable, intimate and focus on the pedestrian experience,” Kirk continues. “Cities that are focused on an internalized experience are struggling. Any project that doesn’t recognise that will have an adverse impact on the city’s future viability.”
The redevelopment includes the demolition of three government buildings, currently occupied by various government departments, including the Neville Bonner Building, designed by Davenport Campbell & Partners in association with Donovan Hill and Powell Dods & Thorpe. In 1999, the building received a Commercial Architecture Award at the National level, and the FDG Stanley Award for Public Architecture at the state level.
“We certainly don’t endorse the current method of basically building over our oldest street,” Kirk said. “It’s incumbent on the government of the day to maintain and enhance its public assets. The precinct’s full of some of the finest twentieth century buildings in the state.”
In his review of the Neville Bonner Building, Michael Keniger, former Queensland government architect, wrote, “it embodies coherent urban design principles that, if employed on adjacent sites, could reclaim and energize this lost edge of the city centre.”
But the planned redevelopment “erases” the princples established by the Neville Bonner Building, said Keniger. “It’s unfortunate that such a large scale development driven by the needs of the gaming floor of the casino overrides what was a coherent government precinct and overrides its setting.”
The government said the demolition of the Neville Bonner Building “is required to provide an attractive market proposition.”
But Keniger says the government must balance the interests of private developers and its own coffers with the interests of the public.
“There’s no question that economically it might make sense to the city but in an ideal world, is that the best site for it?” asked Keniger.
“To me, design is a process through which the public realm and the public interest are prioritized,” said Kirk, in turn. “So any delivery authority needs to have a authoritative design review process. The city is always more important than individual interests.”
The Destination Brisbane Consortium consists of Echo Entertainment and Hong Kong-based Chow Tai Fool Enterprises and Far East Consortium. Cottee Parker Architects is responsible for a number of large scale apartment and retail buildings for developers across Australia and has had a fruitful relationship with Far East Consortium. The two parties are behind one of Melbourne’s largest apartment developments, Upper West Side, which consists of 2,606 units over five towers, as well as Elizabeth Quay in Perth, which will house the Ritz Carlton Hotel.
Construction on the resort is set to begin in 2017 with completion expected in 2022.