Richards & Spence: Reshaping Brisbane through architecture

Brisbane design practice Richards & Spence is behind some of the city’s most thrilling recent builds. We chat with co-director Ingrid Richards about city spaces and style.

The Calile opened in Brisbane late last year to an enormous cacophony of praise. Not simply because it was the city’s newest and most exciting hotel, or because it was the jewel in the James St precinct’s crown, but because it was an example of breathtaking civil design.

Co-directors Ingrid Richards and Adrian Spence formed Richards & Spence in 2008. Since its inception, the small firm has set about creating beautiful, liveable civic spaces in Brisbane and the wider Queensland landscape. Its projects are refined, sleek and suited to the Queensland climate. And while Brisbane is a relatively small city, the buildings Richards & Spence has authored are inspiring on a world stage.

“Architecture provides an opportunity to make a long-term change in our cities – for the better,” says Ingrid. “Done well it can bring a sense of dignity and optimism. This is what we strive for in our practice.”

In 2015, Richards & Spence’s identifiable style, which Ingrid describes as “gentle brutalism”, led to an invitation for the directors to speak at the Monocle Quality of Life Conference in Portugal, and the year prior, they won the Eat Drink Design Award for best retail design for their work on The Standard Market Company in Newstead, Brisbane.

In addition to The Calile’s cool inner-city Palm Springs vibes, the practice has given its signature touch to projects such as restaurant Hellenika at The Calile, Cornerstone Stores in Tugun, Brisbane Airport, as well as the Living Edge showroom and Brickworks Design Studio in Fortitude Valley.

From residential to retail and hospitality, Richards & Spence brings a calm, modernist quality to its projects, which often employ the use of bricks to stunning effect. In the case of the practice’s work on The Calile and the James St precinct, Austral’s La Paloma brick in Miro was used for a unifying effect but also for its practicality in an urban landscape.

“Over the past decade, we’ve been involved in a series of individual projects in the James St precinct, which has established a new local streetscape identity. Key to this was the use of white brickwork. The La Paloma is elegant yet hardy and a perfect setting for evolving tenancies,” explains Ingrid. “Also, it has an enduring finish; brickwork never needs to be repainted, which is a great commercial maintenance outcome.”

While it’s no surprise Richards & Spence used masonry in the design of the Brickworks Design Studio, where Ingrid says the architects “sought to demonstrate the value of the materials through the creation of a memorable room”, their willingness to embrace brick in softer residential projects is evident in Clayfield House, where the masonry’s thermal properties are highly valued but also used to achieve an unusually lovely effect. “Here, conventional brick veneer construction is reversed, creating a blockwork and stone interior that reads as a ruin.”

While Ingrid suggests the James St precinct is the truest expression of the Richards & Spence style, she explains the directors’ aesthetic is in constant flux as the considerations of individual builds dictate outcomes and their own perceptions change. “Each project is the prototype for the next. We learn from every scheme and seek to use this information to evolve our practice.”

We can’t wait to see which direction this exciting practice heads in next. All eyes on Brisbane.

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