Spire Residences sets a new benchmark for high-rise living

When it comes to quality high-rise buildings, Brisbane has history, with Spire the latest to grace the city’s skyline

In the 1970s Brisbane was still a large country town, where the City Hall and Parliament were the only vertical landmarks. But the economic growth of the following decades encouraged architects to build tall. Architects Peddle Thorpe and Harvey, Robin Gibson, Kisho Kurokawa and Harry Seidler not only contributed beautifully considered towers to it skyline, but also were responsible for creating accessible public environments at street level. Whether it is recognised or not, Brisbane has come to recognise and expect quality CBD buildings.

The new Spire Residences designed by John Wardle Architects (JWA) contributes to this legacy. It is a graceful and contemporary tower that appropriately speaks to the historical context and stylings of its neighbours. The developer, Consolidated Properties, is a local development group with a portfolio of exemplary, worthwhile buildings.

The Spire Residences sits on steep topography, on a site that was surely once the eastern foot of the cliff face next to St John’s Cathedral. It is on the edge of the city centre in Brisbane’s revitalised wharf district, Petrie Bight. This pocket was once occupied by wharves and the nearby Customs House building, which gives the building a sensitive heritage context to deal with.

The site is wedged between the distinctive Hotel Orient and the Schools Building. The Hotel Orient is late 19th century classical-colonial style, designed by Richard Gailey. On the Residence’s other side is arts and crafts-style The Schools Building. Designed by Robin Dods, the building’s gradated brick and shingle facade shares little in aesthetics with the curved cream Hotel Orient. JWA’s design for The Spire Residences manages to unify these two heritage buildings by picking up their materials and colours and incorporating them into a contemporary brick façade.

The new brick podium makes its heritage neighbours far more apparent than before, by providing a carefully abstracted brick context for them to be seen against. This manoeuvre is a hallmark of JWA’s work, generating beautiful abstraction influenced by familiar urban fabric. The striking brick podium of mullions is woven with hanging vegetation, which creates a natural veil through which the building’s public spaces engage with the urban river edge. While it is not directly on the riverfront, this gives the building a definite riparian feeling.

Inside, the lobby space is appropriately luxurious – rich in beautifully crafted detail, with a sense of comfort. A clever cross-section connects the formal, heritage precinct of Ann Street with the river precinct of Queen Street by virtue of a grand staircase.

The tower adopts a net-like facade that smoothly undulates to give the building a natural shape. The quietness of this facade belies the hard-working floor plan behind, where residences are cleverly designed to embrace river and city outlooks. The tower mesh is compressed or expanded to cleverly frame views or to modulate the effects of climate on the interior. No evidence of standard off-the-shelf systems, such as window systems or vents, show on the balconies.

JWA has executed this design with the same sympathy and sensitivity shown in its most bespoke projects, despite challenging commercial imperatives. The Brisbane skyline has a new addition, and a new benchmark for tower design.

This text is an edited version of a review written by Paul Owen, to be published in Brickworks’ Folio 3 mid-2018.

Photography by Christopher Frederick Jones.

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