Location: 19 James Street, Fortitude Valley QLD
Builder: CMF Projects
Architect: Richards & Spence
Owner: Centro 1&2 Partnership
Structural Engineer: Sheehy & Partners (brickwork), Intelara (overall project)
Bricklayer: Ultimate Brick & Blocklaying
Photographer: Alicia Taylo
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In 150 years Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley went from an immigrant camp to a notorious nightclub and red-light strip. Until the mid-1990s, James Street, which links New Farm to the Valley, was dominated by a disused Coca-Cola bottling plant.Today, as part of Fortitude Valley’s Urban Renewal program, the street has shed its industrial recent past and taken on a restaurant and fashion focus for a prosperous new generation.
Adrian Spence and Ingrid Richards (www.richardsandspence.com) were tasked with repurposing and upgrading 19 James Street.The “donor” building, a nondescript, mid-90’s precast concrete structure housing commercial showrooms and offices, has morphed into high-value, high-style retail and office accommodation.
“The project was complicated by the fact that several of the tenants remained during construction,” says Adrian Spence.“That was part of the reason for not demolishing the building and starting again. I’m not sure there was a significant saving in doing that,” he adds.
The building describes a square and was co-developed with number 15, designed by another architect. Large sections of the internal structure were demolished to open up the original commercial spaces and new suspended slabs were constructed on the upper floor.The original frontage was set back from the street which gave Richards and Spence the opportunity to extend to the boundary, albeit while preserving existing palm trees.
This retention inspired the stepped articulation of the street facade which doubles as entrances to the James Street shops.“Part of the reason was because council were interested in articulating the building form to reduce the building’s perceived bulk,” Spence explains. However the council was also looking for articulation of the material and the proposed sole use of off-white clay bricks, Bowral Bricks Charolais Cream dry-pressed clay bricks, met with some resistance from planners who felt its aesthetic was too “singular”.
“They resisted the use a single material over the whole building but we were a bit stubborn in that regard!” says Spence.“That’s part of the reason for the brick screens which articulate the surface. But the other reason is that they allow views to the street from the first level offices behind the screens.”
Spence is a keen proponent of masonry use in south-east Queensland, a controversial view in a state well known for its use of lightweight construction. He contends that masonry construction – whether brick or block – is widely used in other countries on our latitude with similar climates and that the widespread use of timber cladding in that state is historical: “When Brisbane was developing timber was the cheapest material available.”
Richards and Spence also value the “familiar modularity” of the brick, the scale of which relates to the individual as much as to the environment.
The off-white brickwork wraps around all sides of 19 James Street and into the central arcade which allows access to the upstairs tenancy and public toilets.The arcade also facilitates pedestrian access from this and neighbouring buildings to the rear car park. The retail tenancies continue along the north-west side of the building. “We took advantage of this side to construct a covered outdoor space that some of the tenants are using as external dining.That’s been well received.” Due to site constraints, the rear facade carries only service cupboards and loading bays.
The use of off-white bricks was Spence’s way of easing acceptance of masonry in a hot climate. He references Palm Springs, the upmarket Californian desert community, as an example. “We thought a darker brick, maybe red or brown, would have been a bit too civic in its palette for a shopping and restaurant precinct,” he expands,“and that the off-white brick lightens the mood a little and was more appropriate to these kind of recreational uses. It also provides a further context for the palm trees.” The off-white bricks blend smoothly with large areas of glass, concrete and black steel.
The upper-level brick screens are a signature element of the building. Also known as hit-andmiss brickwork, this technique has been widely used for centuries, especially in hot climates where it is used for ventilation. The combination of tall (three course) “misses” and an unrestrained top edge prompted Scott McDonald of structural engineers Sheehy & Partners to specify T-shaped steel reinforcement to be embedded in each continuous course beneath the openings.
Sheehy also did the structural engineering for the remarkable three-sided brick screen that is suspended over four storeys from Brisbane’s AM-60 tower building (see www.designplace. com.au).
Tenancy fit-outs were carried out progressively with the major commercial tenant, a mining company, taking possession several months before the retail tenants.The project was completed at the end of 2011. In the ultimate sign of a successful development, the entire project was promptly fully tenanted.
19 James Street was a finalist in the UDIA 2011 Awards for Excellence in the Retail/Commercial up to 3000 square metres category.
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Colours: Charolais Cream