Gold Coast architecture is under the spotlight this June at the AIA National Architecture Conference.

Conference organisers take a new lens to the Gold Coast. Photo by Petra Benstead.

Brickworks speaks to one of the Creative Directors of this year’s Australian Institute of Architects’ National Conference, held on the Gold Coast.

This year’s Australian Institute of Architects’ National Architecture Conference was held on the Gold Coast. Creative Directors, Brett Saville, Barry Lee and Wei Jien curated a program of events and discussions around the theme ‘The Edge’. “The theme really grew out of conversations with Gold Coast architects,” says Saville. “‘The Edge’ is relevant to the location of the conference on the Gold Coast but it also encapsulates Australia’s position on edge of the Asia Pacific region.”

The view of the Gold Coast from Coolangatta. Photo supplied by Brett Saville.

The conference Creative Directors believe that ‘The Edge’ is a relevant topic for all Australians, given that nearly 90% of the population lives on the coastal fringe. The Gold Coast in particular is entirely coastal and faces the common problems of erosion and projected sea level rise. Popular tourist spots such as Surfers Paradise already rely on regular dredging and sand transfers to sustain the beach. Situated partly on reclaimed land in the Nerang River delta, the Gold Coast is also in danger from sea level rise. Areas as far inland as the Pacific Hwy could be underwater by 2100 if sea levels rise by the current projection of 2 metres, according to Coastal Risk Australia.

Canal housing at Mermaid Waters would be under threat from sea level rise. Photo supplied by the CSIRO.

For both Saville and Lee these are important factors for architects to think about. “The Gold Coast hasn’t gone down the route of Northern New South Wales, where no new buildings can be built within an area that’s projected to be underwater in the next 100 years,” says Saville. Caught between mountains, river islands and the sea, land on the Gold Coast is limited and arguably would find it difficult to accommodate such a ban. “But you can plan for sea level rise by building sea walls. New developments on the Gold Coast have to provide internal retaining structures that safeguard not only their own developments, but also neighbouring and developments.”

The Gold Coast was an early adopter of high-rise buildings and high-density living, capitalising on the potential for views out to sea and restricted space among coastal peninsulas and islands. But while the Gold Coast is synonymous with tall buildings, it struggles to be synonymous with Australia’s best skyscraper architecture. The area is best known for its commercial architecture and high-rise hotels. “There’s a view among some architects that the architecture of the Gold Coast isn’t as serious,” says Saville. “We don’t think is true and I’m excited to show this to people at the conference.”

The Conference featured local and international speakers, notably North American architect Moshe Safdie. “It was Safdie’s first time returning to the Gold Coast, since he created the master plan for the suburb of Robina, which is very special,” says Saville. Alongside Robin Lamb Hart, Safdie was one of two master planners invited to design the suburb’s development in the 1980s. Now decades later, Robina is said to be similar to the architects’ original plan.

Moshe Safdie is a Canadian architect and author best known for spectacular architecture such as Habitat 67 and the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore. Photo by Michal Ronnen Safdie.

Robina Town Centre. Photo by Kgbo.

“In keeping with the tourism base of the Gold Coast, ‘Lek’ Mathar Bunnag from Bangkok presented his work as an architect best known for resort architecture throughout Asia,” says Saville. Given the Gold Coast’s sub-tropical climate, some would argue the region shares more in common with its northern sub-tropical neighbours that it does with its southern temperate neighbours.

Local speakers included Lindy Atkin from the Sunshine Coast and Sue Dugdale from Alice Springs. Meanwhile Professor Stevenson, director of the newly established Transport, Health and Urban Design at the University of Melbourne, presented his cross-disciplinary research exploring how the effects of urban form and transportation influence the health of residents in cities.

Marcus Beach House by Lindy Atkin’s Bark Architects. Photo by Christopher Frederick Jones.

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