Scott Street Apartments

July 14, 2011

A luxury apartment development in Brisbane by Jackson Teece offers valuable lessons in delivering greater urban density in a sub-tropical climate.

Scott Street Apartments, a new energetic block of luxury apartments by Jackson Teece Architects, is situated on Brisbane’s Kangaroo Point, with the CBD’s twin peninsula to its east. Kangaroo Point is noted for its rhyolite cliffs, quarried for the colonial buildings opposite and the iconic Story Bridge, completed in 1940 and engineered by John Bradfield, of whom the southern approach viaduct is named after. It has always been a kind of shadow town to the city. The grizzly origins of European settlement began on the ‘Point’ in the 1840s and later, migrants would arrive and be processed there. For many decades, with its active shipbuilding industry and mix of modest timber cottages and notable grander houses, it remained a quirky, idiosyncratic foil to its dominant twin. Hard-to-get-to pubs and jazz clubs made it something of a unique cul-de-sac in the heart of the city.

More recently, increasing land values and proximity to the CBD have generated a new wave of migration to this desirable location, particularly from empty nesters and real estate speculators. The results of this new form of city-making are sadly varied, in part due to the erasure from public memory of notable places such as the ‘Yungaba’ Immigration Depot, but also due to unfocused urban planning and a tendency to let the market determine urban form. Resultant developments, as dollar-driven exercises in balancing the competing factors of maximising gross floor areas within an allowable envelope (and not much else), are all too well known here and elsewhere. This approach lacks the necessary research, investment and understanding to implement change that is not only sustainable in the narrow sense of the environment and resource depletion, but more broadly as a contribution to city-making that resonates with the community and the culture of a place.

The developers of Scott Street Apartments, Waterford Properties, are very familiar with this particular milieu of development economics. It is a mark of their ingenuity, then, that when they approached Jackson Teece they stepped back from the knee-jerk response of pitching their site to the lowest common denominator, as is happening elsewhere at Kangaroo Point. Instead, this project unashamedly targets those whose wealth was sufficiently robust enough to ride out the financial crises of the last 18 months. The focus on multi-million-dollar apartments allowed for a return on the investment, but radically reduced the contents of the overall building envelope to just 12 very large units to enhance the exclusivity of the project for its target niche. The retention of the adjacent heritage-listed Silverwells residence as part of the overall development strategy, as well as the need to respond effectively to several competing environmental constraints, established additional restrictions on the building envelope.

From this base, Jackson Teece were able to pursue their architectural solution and develop this project as a thoughtful response to living densely in the sub-tropics, while also allowing this position to inform the expressive potential of the architecture.

The project sits on the corner of Main and Scott Streets. Main, to the east, flanks the approach to Story Bridge, while Scott Street, marking the project’s southern edge, is a short stub ending abruptly with a commanding view of the city to the west. Jackson Teece identified Scott Street as strategically more suited to the Brisbane City Council’s plans for future pedestrian links between Southbank, the city and Kangaroo Point. A future phase of the project may see the site south of Scott Street developed, completing the Jackson Teece urban vision in marking a new entry into Kangaroo Point from the west. From this, a principal design strategy is developed to heighten the entry on the street, making it highly visible as part of an overall urban response.

This ‘reading’ of the street to generate design strategies seems obvious from an urban design perspective, but is so often overlooked or left unconsidered on developer-led projects with an eye on the bottom line. If the proposed future plans hold, then the urban design will warrant closer scrutiny.

Embellishing the street-level strategy is a suite of muscular canting columns or props, which deftly dodge key set out points of the basement sub-structure to transfer loads from the tower above. The expressive qualities of this structure act synonymously with the Moreton Bay figs found nearby – like a protective frame, casually but decorously screening the interior lobby, without disrupting its street connection.

The tower above then adopts a climatically sensible long east-west axis in the general parti. Each unit has a lavishly finished floor all to itself, as if like a house, relocating the scale of grand residences in outer suburbs to a grander inner-realm. The shorter western and eastern ends therefore occupy the place of the major environmental challenges. To the west are located each unit’s public elements. Some of my colleagues would contend, in this climate, that such moves warrant capital punishment, but when the view of the CBD and ranges beyond is as spectacular as this it’s hard to think what other response is possible. Sometimes a western aspect is just the best one. To deal with the heat, glare and wind, very large decks, glazed screens and expensive blinds are employed. Perhaps it’s an imperfect solution, but possibly an enviable challenge for the well-heeled elite that has already taken up 70 percent occupancy.

The eastern end is better. Its exuberantly super-scaled abstraction of a neatly pruned vegetative screen in cleverly repeated or mirrored pre-cast concrete panels is the set piece of the project. The ambiguity of this element, while not dominating the internal experience of each unit, works well in disguising some of the prosaic components: air handling units, and naturally ventilated drying courts. In addition, it deals effectively with the more urgent, aggressive problems of dampening noise from traffic on the adjacent Story Bridge. The collaboration between Jackson Teece’s multidisciplinary team and Colin Ginger of Precast Concrete Products has produced a technical tour-de-force. The poetic qualities alone promise much for a mature response to denser housing projects in the subtropics – a promise that has lain fallow since Job and Froud’s 1960 ‘Torbreck’, at Highgate Hill first offered a viable response to building densely in this climate. The real challenge for this project lies in squaring the luxury of multi-million dollar units with the potential application of its rich architectural ideas to more modest budgets.

Recent projects here and elsewhere have highlighted this impasse between bespoke and modest needs. Lessons learned at Scott Street will hopefully propel interest and skill in developing a clearer pronouncement for addressing the problems of urban transformation.

Douglas Neale is an architect and lectures in design in the School of Architecture at the University of Queensland.

  • aaron wilson & robyn johnson July 14th, 2011 5:29 am

    yes this has merit – so not to be specific to this work but in general – we are tired of opening our newsletters and seeing more boxes – are architects too afraid to think outside the square or is it their clients??

  • Kent Gration July 14th, 2011 6:50 am

    Watching this building being built and driving past it everyday, has been and is a joy. The shear complexity of its structural design, combined with well-composed visual and tacile diversity from all sides, to me make this one of the most appealing, refined and original pieces of architecture in Brisbane.

  • Michael McCann July 17th, 2011 2:16 am

    Beautiful building. Congratulations to the Jackson Teece team.

  • Zac B. February 2nd, 2012 12:01 pm

    This building has got to have the widest balconies I have ever seen for a mid-high rise in Brisbane if not in the whole of Queensland. I had only noticed it yesterday when I got stuck in traffic, whilst traversing southbound across the Storey Bridge. I had no idea when this building had been completed nor what it was like until I “Googled” for it here today.
    Well done for making design reality. I hope you can convince the policy makers to pedestrianise Scott Street, as looking on nearmaps there is argument that there will still be two other options for easy access to the public parklands for both residents & emergency vehicles; whilst further limiting access points for private vehicles to the main road.

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