24 Jul 2015

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The $2 billion Queen’s Wharf is Brisbane’s version of Sydney’s Barangaroo, with half a dozen football fields of prime waterfront ripe for development.

But unlike that runway-like strip of land on Sydney’s foreshore, the Queen’s Wharf site – to be developed by Echo Entertainment – has the topology of a rocky-road chocolate, with clumps of derelict park, Victorian heritage buildings, 1970s office blocks, staircases and hidden laneways.

Urbis's 'red ribbon' concept will lead visitors from Brisbane's Queen Street Mall to the Botanic Gardens through new buildings and public spaces.
Urbis’ ‘red ribbon’ concept will lead visitors from Brisbane’s Queen Street Mall to the Botanic Gardens through new buildings and public spaces

“This is far from an ideal site to be developing an integrated resort,” said Echo Entertainment’s property development director, Josef Seidler. “But some of the biggest challenges here are the biggest opportunities.”

The messiness of the waterfront site has inspired Echo’s property consultant, Urbis, to come up with the idea of a “red ribbon” which weaves people through Brisbane’s unseen city and the one that is so far just a dream.

AFR graphic
AFR graphic

There are all these great little moments that are tied together by a single thread.

“We are taking something that has not been available to Brisbane and converting it into something that is publicly accessible,” said Urbis’ National Director of Design, James Tuma.

“It will be about experiencing a journey through the middle of buildings rather than along the street. There will be a collection of experiences which will be totally new, totally about Brisbane. It will now be possible to go from the Queen Street Mall to the Botanic Gardens – almost one kilometre – crossing only one road.”

Mr Tuma said it will be like a string of pearls. “There are all these great little moments that are tied together by a single thread.”

The key idea there is not so much about the linear journey; instead it's about creating important spatial opportunities.

From the Queen Street Mall, visitors will come into an international department store (currently the Treasury Casino) to rival the likes of Saks Fifth Avenue. They can then travel over or under Elizabeth Street into a huge premium retail complex likely to be named Queen’s Walk and lit by natural light from a park above.

From there, the public can walk through the Ritz Carlton Hotel and into Stephens Laneway, with restaurant offerings and a hanging garden.The laneway, which is not yet open to the public, will filter out into the Printery Courtyard, surrounded by heritage-listed buildings offering providore-style foods. From the courtyard, the first of the new towers will present itself, along with the George Street Plaza, which will provide entry to the casino, sky deck, cinema verde and hotels such as the Rosewood and Dorset.

The red ribbon then flows along the back of heritage-listed buildings The Mansions and Harris Terrace and in front of two imposing residential towers before unravelling at the entrance of the Botanic Gardens.

While the red ribbon weaves along the ridge between William Street and George Street, there is no parallel ribbon between the lower William Street and Brisbane River section of the site.

“The key idea there is not so much about the linear journey; instead it’s about creating important spatial opportunities,” Mr Tuma said.

“It will become a tartan of connectivity, with some fat connections and thin connections of parks and plazas criss-crossing with endless opportunities to engage the public.”

The available public realm is massive – bigger than Barangaroo – and Urbis estimates that at a peak capacity up to 190,000 people could fit into the site for events.

And while there is plenty of hype about the size and scale of the development, the planners behind the winning proposal prefer to say that it will end up being “more Monte Carlo than Las Vegas”.

James Tuma View Profile