Architects: Cox Rayner Architects
Location: Brisbane, Australia
Client: South Bank Corporation
Photographs: Angus Martin Photography, Christopher Frederick Jones, Florian Groehn Photography
From the architect.
BCEC on Grey Street is a major expansion of the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre (1996), but also a completion of the concept of the original building which was discontinued in 1996 due to a then dispersal of Government funds to other public projects.
The time delay has significantly befitted the overall facility in enabling its elements to meet the changed demands for conventions toward smaller, more boutique and more self-contained venues combining auditoria, meeting and exhibition spaces within discrete parcels.
The design albeit by the same architects, does not mimic the original but, reflects the changed functional demands in a new form and expression. This expression also responds to a site some 200 metres long and only 30 metres wide, creating what we refer to as an ‘architectural sentence’ of ‘clauses’ and ‘punctuations’ in both elevation and corresponding roofscape. In this way a previously impoverished portion of Grey Street is enlivened, the building connecting the historical rail station it overlooks with the commercial and hotel heart of South Bank.
The primary philosophical aspirations were to reflect a new age of convention formats than those which prevailed in the 1990s, and to animate an alienated portion of South Bank’s main Grey Street by enlivenment using the concept of an ‘architectural sentence’. The first aspiration meant contrasting with the original BCEC architectural language which our practice had formerly done, and creating a new language in which the functional parts are strongly expressed to the street, and transparently seen to within.
The second aspiration entailed animating an unusually long and narrow site (200m x 30m) with a sequence of undulating roof scales and a series of elevational articulations, comparable to both a sentence in literature or stanza in music. Within the major shifts in language corresponding with part-theatres, foyers, meeting spaces, function terraces – are further articulations, such as visual penetrations to the theatres enabling external outlook from them.
Public and Cultural Benefits
BCEC on Grey Street has helped ‘rescue’ a downgraded yet critical piece of Grey Street that links the city’s cultural centre with the urban heart of South Bank. It has significantly enhanced public safety of the street (as is testified by neighbouring QPAC) through its accessibility and transparency.
It has created a new public access path over the South Bank railway, linking South Bank to West End, and below the railway in a through-corridor which penetrates the original building’s carpark. Most significantly, it has facilitated Brisbane’s ability to stage types of integrated conventions and performances unavailable in any other Australian city, enabling BCEC complex to remain by far Australia’s most successful convention centre commercially and in terms of visitation.
Relationship of Built Form to Context
The strong philosophical approach and architectural resolution of contextual relationship is captured in the above descriptions, including to the street, to the original building it is grafted with, and to the end where it opens out towards.
The program primarily resolved the long and cross-section to which the plan responds, rather than the converse. The governing constraints were the elevated railway level and the existing BCEC plaza level. The decisive ‘move’ was the overlapping stacking of the two 600 + 400 seat theatres in such a way as to enable all four functional levels to flexibly access the theatres forming ‘self-contained’ convention/exhibition venues.
The key collaboration was with the artist Bruce Reynolds who created three series of works generating different historical and geographical interpretations of the South Bank context, one a series of faceted sculptures, one a backdrop of art recesses, and one the ‘cliff’ wall along which people climb (fronting the rail corridor) through a sequence of atrium spaces.
The project budget was $140 million. In the words of BCEC’s CEO the value has been expressed as: “Boutique in concept, dramatic in architecture….the opening was a period of frenetic activity with more than 300 event bookings which will deliver $93 million in one year alone to the Queensland economy”. BCEC on Grey Street was responsible for the whole centre recording in 2012 its highest revenue since opening in 1995.
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre is one of only two Australian convention centres with a 5 Star Green Star (Design) rating with the Green Building Council of Australia. It was designed to utilise the energy capacity of the existing Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre and does not have any additional water chilling plant. The system also utilises solar hot water generation to not increase energy demands on the convention centre’s existing system. The airconditioning system is tailored to occupation of the multiple boutique spaces such that there is minimal, if any, wastage.
All fixed and loose furnishings are sourced from sustainable and recyclable materials, and a vast underground water tank supplies the Centre’s non-potable water, with excess used for irrigation. As is also evident, the façade system is designed with a woven mesh system of angled solar blades shaped to minimise eastern sun exposure and glare, the western solar exposure being blocked by the existing BCEC and atrium skylights providing filtered daylight to the atrium depth of the centre.
Response to Client and User Needs
Client response is mentioned above. User responses include from the first major convention ‘Antimicrobials 2012’ CEO Geoff Coombs describing in writing BCEC on Grey Street as “the best conference facility we have experienced for its size in the world”, and the ‘SETE APOSE 2012’ CEO Renee Jolly stating: “The layout of the centre was perfect…the rooms and auditoria were easily accessible and flexible for our program of plenary lectures and concurrent meeting sessions”.