The 2018 Commonwealth Games Village, designed by Arkhefield, ARM and Archipelago, optimizes the potential of its Parklands site and sets a precedent for considered medium-density development on the Gold Coast.
The Gold Coast is one of Australia’s most rapidly growing cities, in which the imperatives of continual development and change have been driven by its attraction as a tourist destination and by the image of its carefree, laidback lifestyle. And yet as the city continues to expand it has had to behave more like a conventional city, its driving forces shifting to meet the needs of residents rather than visitors and to strands of its economy other than tourism. Despite the recent drive to promote its urban diversity and civic amenity, many will be surprised to learn that the Gold Coast is described as a “knowledge city” in the masterplan for the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct.
A few kilometres inland from Surfers Paradise is the Parklands precinct in western Southport, where, as recently as 1988, high-quality facilities for harness racing and greyhound racing were opened. This development was encouraged by Russ Hinze, then Queensland Minister for Racing, who was said to be concerned that Southport lacked proper tracks for these activities. In retrospect, the location of premier sports facilities in such close proximity to the fledgling Gold Coast Campus of Griffith University seems to be an anomaly.
Two decades later, the decision to create the 750-bed Gold Coast University Hospital, co-located with the expanding university and a planned private hospital, caused the racing facilities to be closed. The combined two hundred hectares of Parklands was re-designated in 2013 as a health and knowledge precinct. Of this, some twenty-nine hectares was classified as a Priority Development Area (PDA), in which fourteen hectares was reserved as the location of the Commonwealth Games Village and for subsequent housing. Grocon was chosen as the developer of the Commonwealth Games Village on the basis that it would build permanent accommodation comprised of 1,170 apartments and eighty-two townhouses. The needs of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games (GC2018) were to be met by the temporary rearrangement of space within the separate units and townhouses to provide accommodation for 6,500 athletes. Grocon was also to provide for initial retail and commercial space within the village, to be upgraded at some future time.
Grocon’s design team included a joint venture of Archipelago and Arkhefield from Brisbane and ARM from Melbourne, along with Lat27, who together were responsible for the general layout of the overall PDA zone, the detailed masterplan of the seven-hectare village and the design of an equivalent area of open parkland. The planning and design process was an integral part of the preparation of the bid, with the proposed site layout and design of the accommodation and related facilities more or less fixed from the moment the bid was accepted.
Despite the constraints on design development inherent in the procurement process, the overall impression of the Commonwealth Games Village is that it has harnessed the virtues of its location. Most of the accommodation is oriented to the north, north-east or north-west and opens up to remnant woodlands. Generous landscaping and tree planting along the main streets and in courts and gardens provide a sense of ease and amenity rarely found in the tightly planned spaces that characterize too many commercial developments. The principal access is via Village Way, which links the proposed Gold Coast Light Rail (G:link) station to the heart of the scheme at the junction with Hospital Boulevard. These two routes attach to a hierarchy of vehicular and pedestrian routes whose scale is signalled by their descriptors as boulevard, street, avenue and ultimately passeggiata – a pedestrian link that is intended to invite the relaxed strolling enjoyed at the end of the day in so many Latin cities.
Some fundamental and yet relatively underplayed details enhance the nature of the public space. Parking is largely accommodated underneath the apartment blocks, while pavements are of a more generous width on the southern side of key streets. One planning decision that directly affects both traffic management and the enjoyment of place is that the geometry of street corners does not allow large goods vehicles to make a left turn. This reshaping of the conventional parameters of traffic planning enables a greater sense of connection for pedestrians throughout the precinct.
The intersection of Village Way and Hospital Boulevard is designated as the “Village Heart,” achored by an activated piazza that opens to an artificial lake and the main park beyond. “Piazza” is perhaps an inadequate term for a space that evokes the looping tracks and waterslides of the theme parks to the north of Parklands. This space is animated by a sculptural pavilion and major water feature called the Disc that is lightly poised in the space – seemingly having just landed. The Disc offers shade and evaporative cooling, with water cascading through an oculus above. Winding around this central feature is the twisting yellow structure of an arbour framework that will eventually provide both shade and colour around the edge of the piazza space. The reference to a DNA double helix is unmistakeable but less obvious is the suggestion that where the implied trail of the DNA string has touched the adjacent buildings, a heightened colour imprint or scorching has been left. In a way, such justification is unnecessary as it is the overall visual impact of the high-chroma colours exploding over the housing blocks that is such a shock.
The visual presence of the buildings would be relatively reticent without this overlay and, although challenging at first, the patchwork of intense hues recalls the way strong colour was often used in the early years of the development of the Gold Coast. The palette is described as a fully saturated reference to the gradation of colours found in the coastal landscape. More purposefully, the colour scheme serves to break up the orthogonal forms and regular patterns of the apartment blocks by highlighting the horizontal screen panels and vertical blades that define the edges of open verandahs and decks. The colours also provide a foil to the dark finish adopted for the core of most of the apartment blocks.
The layout of the various blocks of apartments and townhouses is designed to optimize solar access and views. Principal blocks are connected by sequences of interlinked courtyards, gardens and walkways that unify planning throughout the village. The apartments themselves are ordered by a straightforward and well-resolved typology based on a linear plan, with a bedroom anchoring each end of the apartment and living and kitchen spaces in the middle. Access is from a central corridor and kitchens and bathrooms sit against this spine. To increase accommodation for athletes in Games mode, each living space will be divided to provide a further bedroom and the full fitting of the kitchens will be delayed until after GC2018. All units are designed to meet universal access criteria.
When considered in terms of the many challenges that face the City of Gold Coast as it matures and evolves to match the pace of growth, the Commonwealth Games Village offers a convincing example of medium-density housing that optimizes the potential of its site and setting. The former racetrack has given way to a comprehensive health and knowledge precinct where the overlap between innovation, higher education, commercialization, research and advanced healthcare provides the setting for medium-density, mixed-use housing that in turn increases the attraction of the health and knowledge precinct for future staff and students. The attention focused on the village during both GC2018 and its transformation post-Games may help the City of Gold Coast to encourage others to follow the lead of this accomplished model.