Experimenting with architectural certainties yielded an intriguing Brisbane tower by Cox Rayner Architects.
A high-rise tower presents a paradox of sorts: while it might look like the building has been designed vertically, it is essentially the stacking of horizontal planes that creates this vertical presence. If a strong vertical expression is desired, the columns can be designed to extend beyond the outer floor edge, puncturing the facade. Alternatively, the building’s horizontal stacking can be hidden behind a more solid or camouflaging skin. The first thing visitors are likely to notice about the new high-rise tower at One One One Eagle Street in Brisbane, designed by Cox Rayner Architects, is the way in which it plays with these traditions in its decidedly non-orthogonal expression.
The tower sits adjacent to a magnificent Moreton Bay fig tree, and between two buildings designed by Harry Seidler and Associates: The Riverside Centre (completed 1986) and Riparian Plaza (completed 2005). The precinct was envisaged in Seidler’s 1996 masterplan, which included One One One Eagle Street as its final piece, the building situated on a site placed slightly back from the river’s edge between the two existing towers.
Despite the simple clarity of the masterplan the site proved highly problematic. Riparian’s helix spiral car park entry tower blocked direct visual access from the ground level of One One One Eagle Street to the river, while the positioning of a loading dock and basement access on the site meant that the new tower’s structure would need to straddle an existing void.
To sidestep these problems the tower’s core was placed off centre, creating a situation where over 70 percent of the building’s structure is concentrated to one side. This move was achieved in close consultation with Arup, and led to the building’s distinctive web of outer columns that branch and taper, the design of which is based on the algorithm of the way plants grow towards light. The architects liken it to the organic structural patterns of the Moreton Bay fig tree adjacent to the building.
The structural treatment of the tower plays a subtle game with the orthogonal. The horizontal lines created by the floor plates play an obvious role in the building’s elevation, marking the levels at which the columns alter their direction. The decision to shift the direction of the columns at each floor is partly a product of the post-digital – a dexterous movement between the visual intuition of the architect and the possibilities presented by the engineer’s predictive software.
The eye is drawn to follow the wandering columns up and down the building face, an effect made even stronger at night by an LED light installation – a super-scaled artwork by Alexander Lotersztain – on the outer edge of the columns. At night, they read as weightless, ephemeral, larger-than-life dotted lines.
The staggered growth of One One One Eagle Street’s structural columns not only plays with the stability found in orthogonal architecture, but also draws on the relationship between ornament and structure. In the world of parametric design we expect such built forms to be more densely patterned, like PTW Architects’ Beijing Water Cube. Structure becomes ornament, and this is evident on the surface. Yet at One One One Eagle Street the architects have prevented such typified effects to reach the exterior.
The decision by Cox Rayner Architects to deliberately place the translucent glass skin of the building beyond the network of columns is instructive. With the glass on the outside of the columns, we have little option but to see the staggered pattern as structure. But the fact that the columns do not have a clear geometric logic has allowed the architects to create an intriguing play on reality and imagination. In doing this they have succeeded in framing a complex rhetoric of structure, one that is more subdued than some of the imagistic obsessions of parametric design with biomimicry.
The architects’ use of an organic metaphor to guide their thinking about patterns of structure is an aspect of design process, a means to a built solution, rather than something that needs to be read in the building’s final form. The viewer can reach various interpretations. From the vantage point of Brisbane’s Story Bridge the illuminated columns might seem less like the root system of a fig tree and more like veins appearing from under translucent skin or skeins of lightning in a summer storm.
This search for possible formal referents has its precedent in postmodernism’s multiple coding, but in other ways the tower references postmodern and late-modern architecture more directly. Its taut glass skin, contrasting with the expression of the Seidler towers, allows the building to be read strongly with adjacent buildings on Brisbane’s skyline, such as Peddle, Thorp and Walker’s (now PTW Architects) former AMP Place (completed 1977) and Comalco House (completed 1983), which themselves recall other examples of glass-clad international postmodernism of the period.
This is not to say the building looks to the past for its precedents. The difference between One One One Eagle Street and other contemporary corporate glass towers – for example Renzo Piano’s The Shard or SOM’s Burj Khalifa – is in its overall sculptural form. While the sculptural presence of the Brisbane tower is produced by the regular stacking of its irregular-shaped floor plate, the forms of The Shard and Burj Khalifa are dramatized predominately in section, by tapering towards the sky.
The One One One Eagle Street tower appears to find its own form, not only in the imposition of an idea or new technologies, but also in the open-ended exploration in response to constraining conditions of site and context. The architects’ use of non-orthogonal structure is a means to conduct experimentation with architectural certainties, yet the building is also true to the high-rise type. In all it remains a hybrid object – the result of concepts caught in juxtaposition.