Brisbane softens in its nascent urbanity with some hesitation. The city has encouraged rapid development of its inner ring and CBD, including high-density commercial and residential development and, recently, the large-scale infrastructure needed to provide intercity connections – roads and bypasses, high-speed buses speed and bike- lanes and subway. However, it has been less successful in providing the budgets and design direction necessary to integrate this infrastructure with local conditions and to convert the post-industrial areas and older neighborhoods where this development is concentrated into places actively connected by the pedestrian activity and electric mobility. This lack of recognition, combined with Brisbane’s quirks – fierce heat, steep topography, twisting spine and maze-like streets – makes creating legibility and pedestrian comfort particularly challenging.
Therefore, when projects emerge that demonstrate the foresight, skill and creativity needed to promote pedestrian activity across the entire sector, it is important to recognize them. There are only a handful in all. The commercial initiatives of the past decade – James Street, the RNA Showgrounds, Fish Lane – now add to the original iconic government-run neighborhoods of three plus decades ago. These include Arts Precinct and South Bank, the Tenerife Woolstores, QUT at Gardens Point and Kelvin Grove Urban Village, and the Queen Street Mall – all places that now embody that elusive subtropical city quality, where life can also be appreciated outside. a sin.
The most recent addition to the roster is the first stop at Herston Quarter, a new healthcare facility known as STARS (Surgical, Treatment and Rehabilitation Service). The redevelopment is located adjacent to Victoria Park, Bowen Park and the RNA Showgrounds – all of which however are only accessible by using or crossing major roads, railway and road lines or road viaducts.
The STARS site cascades down a 20 meter slope to Herston Road and its bus station, both located in Victoria Park. Given this difficult topography, it would have been more appropriate to internalize the movement of pedestrians using elevators inside the building. Such an approach, however, would have restricted access to and from the hospital’s heritage core, a cluster of listed historic buildings and spaces at the top of the hill. The elegant verandas, arched facades and leafy courtyards of these buildings, which date back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, refer to the style of the Spanish mission and contrast dramatically with the monolithic scale and modernist character of the later buildings that surround them today. Because of its inviting and humane qualities, the core was intended for future community and commercial use, rather than clinical use.
The design of the inner and outer areas of the newly completed compound recalls the human qualities of the historic core, while the facility offers state-of-the-art medical treatment including specialist rehabilitation, elective surgery and outpatient services. As project designers, Hassell based their approach on the argument that visual and physical access to nature has beneficial effects on health, encouraging recovery processes and promoting well-being. The practice supports this argument by citing the theories expounded by Clare Cooper-Marcus who, along with Marni Barnes and a bevy of others since, developed the theories pioneered by Roger Ulrich in the 1980s that link human well-being to the nature experience.
To achieve their goals, Hassell’s project team of landscape architects, architects and interior designers created multiple visual connections from the internal circulation, halls and respite spaces – first , with the landscape of nearby Victoria Park and the cityscape beyond, and then, with the new landscape surrounding the building itself. This landscape created includes two main pedestrian axes and an interior courtyard around which the building is organized, as well as an entrance esplanade towards Herston Road and a planted balcony at mid-level on the facade of Victoria Park.
The main axis, known as the Spanish Steps to refer to the Spanish Mission style, provides visual connections to the heart of Herston Road, the nearby city bypass and Victoria Park. The secondary axis, known as Lamington Place to refer to the adjacent Lady Lamington Building, connects through the site at the middle level. Spaces accessible to the public are organized along these axes and planted to give the impression that nature is always close, whether under shelter or outdoors, buried or on slabs. The axes are supported by the substantial central courtyard, which constitutes a series of spatially linked but distinct sub-spaces. Physical access to the courtyard is encouraged from the adjoining dining and respite rooms, while the lush greenery of the space (which covers 70% of the area, according to theory) can be seen from all surrounding rooms and their balconies.
After creating the spatial opportunities at the site planning stage, the landscape architecture team developed and detailed the project to provide the kind of immersive nature experience that only subtropical regions can provide – lush greenery and rich with carefully placed flowering species to provide change. Although relatively modest in its overall area, the planting is still sited and designed for maximum restorative impact – massaged, textured, fragrant, shaded, moist and colorful – a dramatic contrast to the clinical experience within.
Transitions from planting to slab to ground are fluid, with planter depths carefully modulated to support substantial depths under trees. Where possible, the edges of planting areas are level with the roadway rather than raised to increase the illusion of being on the ground. Careful detailing of windows, doors and balconies maximize views of key landscape spaces (courtyard, pedestrian axes, wider cityscape and sky) from surrounding hallways and rooms. The vines reach to the upper levels, supported by trellises integrated into the facade treatments. Engagement with nature, although man-made nature, is encouraged at every opportunity.
The Spanish Steps are, in themselves, a positive contribution to the wider cityscape, with the main flight landings surrounded by intricately designed plantings. Purple flowering jacaranda trees shade the pedestrian route and provide a visual link to the traditional remnants of Victoria Park Plantation and the heritage core. As with other successful pedestrian spaces in central Brisbane, it is the predominance of planting that creates character.
Through careful and well-balanced site planning, consistent design detailing and rigorous execution, everything needed for a successful pedestrian precinct in central Brisbane has been established in the first stage of Herston Quarter. The next stages of delivery will test this quality in two ways. The first is whether the maintenance of landscaped areas – now shifting from construction contract to asset managers – can, in the long term, sustain and manage the richness of vegetation in accordance with design intent, rather than return to the simplification and standardization more typical of institutional maintenance programs. The second is whether subsequent stages, including the legacy core, can manifest the quality of design and delivery exhibited by the first. Brisbane as a city and the hospitable district itself deserve it.
List of plants
Trees: Anacardioid Cupaniopsis (tuckeroo); Board Delonix (flamboyant tree); Diploglottis australis (native tamarind); Ficus rubiginous (Port Jackson fig); Flindersia scottiana (dented ash); Harpullia pendulum (tulip tree); Jacaranda mimosifolia (jacaranda); Peltophorum pterocarpum (yellow flame tree); Randia fitzalanii (native gardenia); Tabebuia palmeri (pink trumpet tree)
Palms: Archontophoenix cunninghamiana (Illawara Palm); Licuala grandis (ruffled palm); Licuala ramsayi (Australian fan palm); Livistona australis (cabbage palm)
Accent species and ground cover: Alpine (alpinia) (several species); Asplenium Nest (bird’s nest fern); Aspidistra elatior (cast iron factory); Blechnum (hard ferns) (several species); Calochlaena dubia (soft fern); Casuarina glauca ‘Cousin It’ (swamp oak); Cordyline (palm lilies) (several species); Cyathea cooperi (Australian tree fern); dichondrium (several species); Dichorisandra thyrsiflora (blue ginger); Dioon spinulosum (giant dioon); Doryanthe (several species); gnarled ficinia (gnarled club rush); Heliconia (several species); Liriope (several species); Monstera deliciosa (Swiss cheese factory); Elliptical myoporum (crawling boobialla); neomarica (several species); Tobira Pittosporum ‘Miss Muffet’ (Miss Muffet pittosporum); Plectranthus australis (Swedish ivy); Senecio mandraliscae (blue pencils); Zamia furfuraceae (cardboard palm)
Climbers: Beaumontia grandiflora (Easter lily vine); Ficus pumila (creeping fig); Morning glory horsfalliae (cardinal creeper); Tecomanthe hillii (Fraser Island Creeper); Thunbergia mysorensi (lady’s hoof vine)