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Article from THE AUSTRALIAN:
http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25713465-16947,00.html

Brisbane is leading the pack when it comes to architecture, writes Rosemary Neill, with Melbourne close behind. Sydney? Well, that's another story | July 04, 2009

AT 4am on November 7, 1982, while Brisbane slept, one of the city's most loved music and dance venues, Cloudland, was torn down.

With its dramatic, domed entrance and vast sprung floor, Cloudland, built in 1940 and known as "the dance hall queen", had held a special significance for Brisbaneites.

Patrons had spanned the generations from wartime revellers to rock'n'roll devotees in hooped skirts and punks with spiked collars and enough eyeliner to kit out Paris Fashion Week.

A bland, gated complex of home units now stands on the Cloudland site, on the crest of a hill in inner-city Brisbane. The demolition of this widely mourned venue -- carried out despite a heritage listing -- was typical of the Bjelke-Petersen era in Queensland, when historically significant buildings were routinely pulverised. The Bellevue Hotel, a voluptuous Victorian landmark graced with two storeys of wraparound verandahs, was destroyed in 1979 in another pre-dawn raid.

Today, the state that was notorious for pulling down buildings is cementing its reputation for putting them up, or preserving them. Indeed, some of the country's leading architects say that Brisbane now has a more active and enlightened public architecture culture than the nation's biggest and best-known city, Sydney.

As if to underline this, for two years running, Queensland has won the Australian Institute of Architects' Sir Zelman Cowen Award, the nation's leading prize for public architecture. The renovation of the State Library of Queensland, which doubled the size of the original riverside building, netted this prize in 2007, while a learning centre at Brisbane Girls Grammar school, described as a "testosterone-charged" building that pushes boundaries, snaffled the same prize last year.

Howard Tanner, an influential architect who stepped down as the Institute of Architects' president in May, says Brisbane is poised to become Australia's third metropolis; not ranked behind Sydney and Melbourne, but on a par with them. "People don't picture Brisbane and Queensland as having a focus on design, but the state government has decided that is what it wants to do; it wants to be a cultural hub."

Prominent architect Philip Cox, whose buildings include Sydney's National Maritime Museum and Melbourne's soon-to-be-opened Rectangular Stadium, agrees Brisbane has undergone a striking architectural revival during the past decade or so. "There is a new spirit in Brisbane. They are more artistically, socially, environmentally conscious of what they are doing and about putting Brisbane on the map."

Cox ranks Brisbane's riverside cultural and parklands precinct as one of Australia's most significant architectural achievements of the past 25 years. This is high praise, coming from an architect who recently offended Sydneysiders en masse when he suggested their physically blessed city was, in architectural terms, ordinary looking (more of which later).

Asked to name Brisbane's standout public buildings, Tanner also mentions the Southbank precinct, in particular the vast, airy Gallery of Modern Art and revamped state library.

Brisbane's City Hall, an imposing interwar building that references classical Roman and Greek architecture, suffers from grave structural problems that will cost the Brisbane City Council (or rather, its ratepayers) $200 million to fix. In the bad old days, the bulldozers would have been sent in. Today, the grand old building is to berestored.

Last month, Brisbane's refurbished Queensland Performing Arts Centre was officially unveiled, and following a national competition, the city's civic heart, King George Square, is undergoing a makeover.

Professor of architecture and urban design at the University of Melbourne, Kim Dovey, speculates that Brisbane's revitalisation may have roots in the repression of the Bjelke-Petersen era: "When cities are held back, sometimes it takes reactions to that to bear fruit." Dovey says the Spanish cities Bilbao and Barcelona benefited from the same effect.

Tanner -- who warns that up to 50 per cent of architects may be thrown out of work by the recession -- is heartened by the Bligh government's moves to expand the role of the government architect, lift architectural standards in regional areas and set up a mentorship program for emerging architects. He adds that Queensland was the only state government to cough up money for Australia's participation in last year's Venice architecture biennale.

In stark contrast, the last significant piece of public architecture commissioned and paid for by the NSW government was the renovation of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, completed in 2001, says Tanner. "What's not happening in NSW can be judged by what is happening in Queensland and Victoria," he tells Review from his firm's offices on the gritty fringe of Sydney's central business district. "In Queensland there is significant government support for architecture and design. In Melbourne we have a city council which believes it has a duty to be adventurous in the best sense. In NSW there was a view that we spent every last dollar on the (2000) Olympics. No government has ever really recovered."

In 2007 the Institute of Architects declined to award its Sulman prize for public architecture in NSW, claiming the entries submitted failed to meet acceptable standards, partly because state government funding for them was so tight. "The governments were not commissioning anything of outstanding quality, and that concern remains," Tanner says.

He maintains that in NSW, architectural leadership is being shown outside parliament by the Sydney City Council under Lord Mayor Clover Moore, by the NSW Historic Houses Trust through its refurbishment of colonial-era buildings, and by the bigger universities erecting buildings on campus.

Sydney City Council has proposed a Sydney 2030 plan to give the city centre more public transport, city squares and green space but Moore admits the council lacks the money and power to carry out this scheme alone.

While the NSW government is renovating the Opera House and has been involved in public-private development partnerships, it "has not pursued important architectural commissions of its own" and "seems to spend its time wanting to interfere with the city council's initiatives", says Tanner. NSW Minister for Planning Kristina Keneally did not respond to the questions Review put to her spokesman.

South of the NSW border things are very different, says Tanner. In Melbourne, projects such as the Docklands redevelopment and Southern Cross Station -- an internationally lauded makeover of the old Spencer Street Station -- "speak volumes of the alliance between city and state".

Cox agrees that while Sydney put in place significant infrastructure for the Bicentenary and the 2000 Olympics, now "there are no major (state government-funded) projects in an urban sense going on that I know of". In May he declared that government ineptitude, state and local government conflict, complacency and unimaginative design had resulted in Sydney being burdened with a "third world airport", "non-event public spaces" and an over-reliance on the harbour.

"Sydney depends so much upon the harbour to cover up its litany of sins. The only two memorable spaces are the Opera House and Darling Harbour," Cox told a Sydney newspaper. (Three buildings designed by Cox and his firm are at Darling Harbour: the National Maritime Museum, the Sydney Aquarium and the Sydney Exhibition Centre.)

When we meet, Cox is far more even-tempered than his blazing rhetoric would suggest. But he is just as resolute about Sydney's architectural shortcomings. "People don't like being told you've got warts on your face," he says of the stir his comments created. He remains convinced that "if you took the harbour away from Sydney ... it is a very ordinary city in terms of its urbanity and its architectural distinction".

He says Sydney's CBD lacks public spaces that generate a sense of social focus and has next to no highrise buildings of "world significance". He says the planned Barangaroo development at East Darling Harbour, to comprise a $2.6 billion financial hub and foreshore park, is a missed opportunity because it has been placed largely in the hands of the private sector. A more visionary government would have seized on this opportunity to build cultural infrastructure such as a "desperately needed" indigenous museum.

Award-winning architect Richard Johnson designed Canberra's recently opened National Portrait Gallery -- widely admired for its restrained elegance -- and the Art Gallery of NSW's new Asian wing. But as he has said, the building he'll be best known for isn't his.

Since 1998 he's been involved with renovations of the Sydney Opera House, a project undertaken with the Opera House's original architect, the late Joern Utzon and his son Jan. Would the Opera House, one of the world's most celebrated buildings, be built today? "No it wouldn't," the quietly spoken Johnson says firmly.

Quips Cox: "Utzon wouldn't have got to week one. When his first estimate came in ... they (the NSW government) would have said, 'Forget it!"' Even so, Cox raises his eyebrows at the Rees government's latest cost estimates -- close to $1bn -- for rebuilding the Opera Theatre, the Opera House's most flawed venue. "You could build a new opera house at Barangaroo for afraction of the cost," he points out.

Melbourne has long fancied itself as Australia's architectural epicentre. Clues to the Victorian capital's design ascendancy -- and Sydney's stasis -- can be found in The Phaidon Atlas of 21st Century World Architecture. This elaborately illustrated atlas features more than 1000 of what it claims are the world's most outstanding works of architecture built since 2000. For the latest (2008) edition, the final list was culled from more than 10,000 entries. Forty Australian buildings and structures, from light-deluged country and beach houses to Brisbane's Gallery of Modern Art, Canberra's National Museum of Australia and an impossibly elegant shearing shed, made the cut. Of these, a little more than half (21) are in Victoria. Only 10 can be found in NSW, and none of those are publicly funded buildings.

The last thing Dovey wants to do is extend the cliche of Sydney-Melbourne rivalry. He does allow that "there has been a more vibrant architectural culture in Victoria for a long time". While Sydney had "rested on its harbour too much", Melbourne has had to try harder, and focus on created spaces.

After its economy hit rock bottom in the early 1990s, Victoria went on to host large-scale urban developments -- some publicly funded, some public-private partnerships -- including Docklands, the Southbank cultural precinct and Crown Casino. Recent public works include Federation Square and its associated galleries and museums, the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, the new Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne Recital Centre and Melbourne Theatre Company's new home, the exterior of which -- a series of cubes made from white pipes -- resembles a 3-D sculpture.

Opening next month is the Melbourne Convention Centre, part of a new, $1.4bn development along the Yarra River linking Docklands and the city. Cox's rectangular football stadium, dubbed the "bubble stadium" because of its distinctive exterior, opens its gates at the end of this year.

But Dovey remains unimpressed. He says: "I don't think any of our governments do enough architecturally. I do think that Queensland has picked up the ball a bit." Asked to nominate impressive public works of architecture built in Australia since World War II, he names Federation Square ... and nothing else.

"One of the problems," he insists, "is that governments everywhere seem besotted with public-private partnerships." He argues that developers subtly dumb down the public infrastructure they are obliged to build as part of these deals. He believes Southern Cross Station lacks edge for this reason. "We need politicians with the courage to commit to public buildings and the courage to allow architects to do really good work," he says.

Public-private deals in which developers foot most of the bill are clearly popular with cash-strapped state and territory governments: the development of Sydney's Barangaroo, Melbourne's convention centre, a $1bn upgrade of Darwin's waterfront and a $2bn city-fringe revitalisation in Perth all involve intense collaboration with private investors.

But Tanner says that even when buildings are fully funded by governments, many aren't built to last. He says the National Museum of Australia, which opened in Canberra in 2001, and the National Portrait Gallery are too small for the long-term purpose and growing population they're meant to serve. "The old maxim, 'Do it once, and do it properly' needs to be re-applied," he says.

Back in the state that has gone from being a heritage vandal to an architectural trailblazer, John Kotzas was last month busily preparing for the re-opening of the refurbished Queensland Performing Arts Centre, and for an exclusive visit by the Paris Opera Ballet. Kotzas, QPAC's director, was a university student when the Bellevue Hotel was bulldozed. Back then, he says, "it was almost a political statement: unless a building was new, it had no value".

Three decades on, the QPAC upgrade and ambitious state library renovation "were respectful of what was there already, and added to it".

Kotzas believes Brisbane's cultural precinct has transformed the city and serves as a social meeting place. Again, a far cry from the Bjelke-Petersen era, when protests and street marches were banned. "You weren't allowed to be in a reasonably sized gathering," says Kotzas, recalling how he and other students protested against this ban in groups of three: one would be arrested, one would support the arrested student and a third would pass around a hat to raise bail money.

"We have gone to the extreme opposite of that," says Kotzas, noting how Brisbane's architectural revival "reflects the growing maturity and sophistication of the city".

Additional research by Elisabeth Wynhausen.
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
I would disagree with the prospect of Brisbane having better architecture then Melbourne.

However, Brisbane is heading in the right direction.
Such ashame that the NSW Government is so incompetent.
 

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In terms of architecture Brisbane's been well in front of Sydney for a long time. Great article though. Should upset a few people here :lol:

j
 

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I think the article is focusing too heavily on public projects; in private buildings Sydney and Melbourne far surpass brisbane. Even if recent improvements on the Brisbane scene are accepted as pushing it up a level, there is no saying that this will last.
 

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The subject of the article is recent developments. Of course if we wind back the clock, Brisbane's architecture has been utterly woeful. Recently, however, public and private alike have been quite impressive IMO.
 

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Some of those projects mentioned in the article for those who've never seen them.

STATE LIBRARY


GOMA

j
 

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Wow, an architect who designs public buildings wants more money spent on public buildings. Who'd have thought.
 

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The subject of the article is recent developments. Of course if we wind back the clock, Brisbane's architecture has been utterly woeful. Recently, however, public and private alike have been quite impressive IMO.
agreed, historically speaking brisbane has been terrible in the architecture stakes, these days though there are some quite good buildings been built.

Sydney isnt all that bad though, the new Maqaurie building and the new train stations are a sign of what it is capable of.
 

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Its great that Brisbane is lifting its game and it has come a long way since the 80s and 90s, but to say its leading the pack is abit much imo.
A honourable mention would be more to the point, i mean Melbourne trailing Brisbane in architecture stakes does not gel with me.
Sydney has some wild architecture, its just so easy to dump the place nowdays that it almost sounds like sour grapes ripening.....
 

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Its great that Brisbane is lifting its game and it has come a long way since the 80s and 90s, but to say its leading the pack is abit much imo.
A honourable mention would be more to the point, i mean Melbourne trailing Brisbane in architecture stakes does not gel with me.
Sydney has some wild architecture, its just so easy to dump the place nowdays that it almost sounds like sour grapes ripening.....
well no i dont think its leading either, Melbourne is definetly out in front with things like Southern Cross Station and Federation Square
 

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Its great that Brisbane is lifting its game and it has come a long way since the 80s and 90s, but to say its leading the pack is abit much imo.
A honourable mention would be more to the point, i mean Melbourne trailing Brisbane in architecture stakes does not gel with me.
Sydney has some wild architecture, its just so easy to dump the place nowdays that it almost sounds like sour grapes ripening.....
I agree....Sydney has long been the biggest, the best and the most beautiful and that won't be changing anytime soon. Tall poppy syndrome I say.
 

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well no i dont think its leading either, Melbourne is definetly out in front with things like Southern Cross Station and Federation Square
I agree with Southern Cross but disagree about Fed Square - yuk. Just because it is...um.. ahem...bold..doesn't make it good.

Anyways ... intersting article.
 

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I agree....Sydney has long been the biggest, the best and the most beautiful and that won't be changing anytime soon. Tall poppy syndrome I say.
How do you know its tall poppy syndrome? The author may be from Sydney?

A different impression/attitude, that challenges "conventional wisdom" may not be a bad thing, nor, necessarily innacurate.

In saying that, I also rate Sydney the best.
 

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mickebee needs to get down and do 20!
 
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