How will the latest apartment boom affect Brisbane’s future?

Image from the Hudson, Albion

The climatic and sustainable design has been widely ignored across Brisbane’s apartment boom, which could have devastating effects on Brisbane’s growth and future. As the University of Queensland end their appeal against 443 Queen Street, this project may yet join the seemingly infinite crop of apartment blocks springing up around Brisbane, although with some very important differences. There are only a few apartment towers, such as 443 Queen Street, that have invested time and budget into the climatic response of the building to create an innovative addition to Brisbane’s skyline. Other apartment buildings have opted for short term savings by ensuring all apartments require air conditioning to be habitable. This inner-city apartment boom is a clear indication of Brisbane’s growing population and reflects a lifestyle shift towards city living, but what long-term effect will these air conditioned ‘hot-boxes’ have for Brisbane?

It is no surprise that Brisbane’s current apartment boom reflects the global trend towards a preferred inner-city lifestyle, particularly favourable among millennials. Tarsha Finney, architect and lecturer at the School of Architecture at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), said in an ABC interview, We have smaller apartments […] but a larger lifestyle and a larger public life outside of the home […] It’s a different way of living.” Ms Finney continued to explain that, “Where apartment blocks failed […] was when they were built away from services and attractions without spaces that encouraged social living.” Similarly, in America, surveys have found millennials drawn to inner-city living with 86% saying it was important to have opportunities to live and work without relying on a car. (I wrote about the desired sustainability and walkability in cities in my previous blog post Sustainability is a Lifestyle.) As construction officially begins on the Queen’s Wharf precinct, Brisbane is growing and asserting itself internationally. So more inner city living is required, but the effects of poor design and cost-savings may be catastrophic to Brisbane’s growth.

443 Queen Street Render. Image from CBUS Property, WOHA, and Architectus’ Development Application available on the Brisbane City Council website.

443 Queen Street’s subtropical climatic design could become a much needed precedent for Brisbane’s recent apartment boom, if it actually gets approved. The University of Queensland was petitioning against Cbus’ 443 Queen Street until recently, in an attempt to save a historically relevant fig tree and preserve views of the historic and iconic Custom House. In an open letter to the council, UQ’s Acting Chancellor, Dr Jane Wilson, and Vice Chancellor/President, Professor Peter Høj, explained, We have significant concerns about the bulk and scale of the development, and believe that the development in its current form poses a threat to the heritage values of Custom House and to the health of 100-plus-year-old landmark fig tree that sits on the property boundary. I wrote about this debate, and the subtropical climatic response of 443 Queen Street in my previous post Does Custom House need saving?  While the end of UQ’s appeal brings 443 Queen Street closer to reality, it is no guarantee of 443 Queen Street’s approval. Meanwhile, many other apartment blocks have sprung up around Brisbane quietly uncontested.

Sustainability and climatic design are not new concepts and the benefits are well researched. Your Home, a Queensland Government website, explains that “Approximately 40% of household energy is used for heating and cooling to achieve thermal comfort. This rate could be cut to almost zero in new housing through sound climate responsive design and, indeed, should be our aspiration goal. […] Designing for today’s climate is important; ensuring that those designs can be just as efficient after 30 years of climate change would certainly be desirable. Affordability is often cited as the main barrier to greater efficiency but increasing energy costs are rapidly shifting the affordability focus from initial or upfront costs to ongoing or operational cost.” Your Home continues to outline a range of strategies to affordably achieve a sustainable climatic response specific to the Queensland climate. If the Queensland Government is already aware of the benefits of sustainable climatic design, how are the ‘hot box’ apartments being approved?

Despite the necessity of the apartment-block boom, concerns are being raised as climatic design appears too expensive for some developers. Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Associate Professor Rosemary Kennedy explained, “We studied the plans of 15 contemporary five to 30-storey apartment buildings approved after 2011 and found few achieved Brisbane City Council’s Multiple Dwelling Code’s acceptable outcomes associated with design for sustainable subtropical design.” Professor Kennedy continued to outline four major areas these apartments are failing;

Apartments lacking in these areas are likely to require air conditioning for the majority of the year to achieve thermal comfort. There may also be issues with privacy and noise pollution where rooms such as bathrooms and bedrooms have floor to ceiling windows that open onto busy streets. This will mean the few windows in these buildings won’t be opened and air conditioners will be run even more. These issues are likely to lead to an increase in electricity usage and ironically,  increased greenhouse gas emissions that worsen Global Climate Change. Professor Kennedy, supported by other professionals, is urging the Queensland government to tighten the laws and requirements around climatic response.

As Brisbane starts to grow and establish itself internationally, we need to think carefully about housing and its long term effects. Hot-box apartments are likely to deter people wishing to move to Brisbane and have an adverse effect on communities and the environment. With 443 Queen Street inching closer to reality, there is some hope for more projects of this caliber in the future – but will it be too late then? An effective solution can only be achieved through long term planning.  

CBUS, 443 Queen Street 

Brisbane Development, UQ Officially Ends Appeal Process Against 443 Queen Street (Nov 10, 2016)

Flint, Anthony, City Lab, What Millennials Want – And Why Cities are Right to Pay Them So Much Attention  (2014)

Raabus, Carol, ABC News, Shared spaces and walking for transport: Changing how we live in Australian cities (Nov 15, 2016)

Reardon, Chris and Paul Downton, Your Home, Design for climate (2013) 

QUT News, Too much glass & no privacy: Brisbane’s new apartments are not suited to subtropical climate (Nov 29, 2016)

The Urban Developer, Are Queensland Apartments Unsuitable For A Queensland Climate? (Dec 8, 2016) 

Wilson, Jane, Peter Høj, An open letter from the Acting Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor to all UQ alumni, The University of Queensland (11/03/2016)


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