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Queensland Cultural Centre
Queensland Performing Arts Centre 01.jpg
Queensland Performing Arts Centre, part of the Queensland Cultural Centre, 2013
Location Grey Street, South Brisbane, City of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Design period 1970s-1990s Late 20th century
Built from 1976
Built for Queensland Government
Official name: Queensland Cultural Centre
Type state heritage
Designated 12 June 2015
Reference no. 602844
Type Recreation and entertainment: Entertainment centre
Theme Creating social and cultural institutions: Cultural activities
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The Queensland Cultural Centre is a heritage-listed entertainment centre at Grey Street, South Brisbane, City of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. It is part of the South Bank precinct of the Brisbane River. It was built from 1976.

The major components of the centre are Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC), the Queensland Museum, the State Library of Queensland (SLQ), the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) and the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA).

The original part was designed by Brisbane architects Robin Gibson and Partners and opened in 1985. In 2010, Robin Gibson and Partners were granted a "25 Year Award for Enduring Architecture" by the Queensland Chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA).

The GOMA building designed by Kerry and Lindsay Clare, directors of the Australasian firm Architectus, was added to the complex in 2006. In 2007, the building received three awards: a Brisbane Commendation and a Public Architecture Award from the Queensland Chapter of AIA; and a National Award for Public Architecture, again from AIA. Then in 2010, the Clares received the AIA's Gold Medal for their work.

In the same year, an extension of the SLQ building designed by the Brisbane architects Donovan Hill and Peddle Thorp was opened. For their design, the architects were awarded the prestigious Sir Zelman Cowen Award for Public Architecture by AIA in 2007.

The centre is surrounded by sub-tropical gardens which are open to the public. There are several cafés, restaurants, bookshops and other public facilities located throughout the site.

In the immediate South Bank area there are restaurants, bars, parklands, walking paths, and swimming pools, the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's new radio and television headquarters which also house the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, and the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre. With South Brisbane Railway Station directly opposite QPAC, many major bus routes running past the centre, and water transport available along the Brisbane River, the public has ready access to the centre. In 2009, a pedestrian and bicycle bridge called the Kurilpa Bridge was opened. It connects the Roma Street Railway Station area of Brisbane City with the centre, reaching South Bank next to GOMA and close to SLQ, QAG and the Museum.

The south-western part of the Queensland Cultural Centre was added to the Queensland Heritage Register on 12 June 2015. The heritage listing consisted of Queensland Performing Arts Centre, the Queensland Museum, the Queensland Art Gallery but not the more recent Queensland Gallery of Modern Art nor the renovated State Library of Queensland .


Panorama of the Queensland Cultural Centre – with the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (left) and the Queensland Art Gallery (right), and the Cultural Centre Busway Station, located in Melbourne Street between the two buildings

The Queensland Cultural Centre (QCC), located on the south bank of the Brisbane River opposite the central business district, is the state's principal cultural venue and an important example of late 20th century modernist architecture. Constructed between 1976 and 1998, this ambitious complex, a milestone in the history of the arts in Queensland and the evolution of the state, was designed by renowned Queensland architect Robin Gibson in conjunction with the Queensland Department of Public Works, for the people of Queensland.

The Cultural Centre includes the Queensland Art Gallery (1982), the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (1984), the Queensland Museum (1986), the State Library and The Fountain Room Restaurant and Auditorium (The Edge in 2015) (1988). The substantially altered State Library and the Gallery of Modern Art are part of the broader cultural precinct but are not part of the heritage listing.

South Brisbane before the Queensland Cultural Centre

StateLibQld 1 68811 Railway Station in Melbourne Street at South Brisbane, Queensland, 1902
South Brisbane railway station, 1902, now a neighbour of the Queensland Cultural Centre

Prior to European settlement, the whole of the South Brisbane peninsula was known as Kurilpa, an important meeting place for the Yuggera/Jagera people. The tip of the South Brisbane peninsula was a traditional river crossing. After the establishment of the Moreton Bay Penal settlement in 1825, convicts cleared the river flats to grow grain for the settlement and during the 1830s, timber from the south bank was exported to Sydney.

From the 1840s, South Brisbane developed as one of Queensland's key location for portside activity, initially advantaged by its more direct access to the Darling Downs and Ipswich. As maritime trade expanded, wharfs and stores were progressively established adjacent to the river. Over time, a range of commercial, light industrial and manufacturing activities also occurred, along with civic and residential land uses. The area prospered in the 1880s and South Brisbane became a municipality (the Borough of South Brisbane) in 1888. Along with the development boom, a dry dock was opened in 1881, coal wharves and associated rail links were constructed and South Brisbane railway station was established as the passenger terminus for suburban and country train lines.

By the end of the 19th century, the area had evolved into a substantial urban settlement, with Stanley Street a major retail centre and thoroughfare. Such development however, could not arrest a gradual 20th century decline which accelerated after World War II, influenced by the reorientation of economic activity and transport networks in Brisbane. Post-war, wharves, stores and railway sidings closed and were subsequently demolished, with the progressive relocation of shipping downriver. The decline of such a centrally located area in the capital city presented an opportunity for significant urban renewal.

Cast in costume on stage at the Cremorne Theatre ca 1927 (7947288058)
Cast in costume on stage at the Cremorne Theatre, circa 1927

The Queensland Cultural Centre is situated on the site of one of Queensland's historical theatres, the Cremorne Theatre. Originally an open-air structure with seating for about 1,800, the Cremorne Theatre was located on Stanley Street, South Brisbane, between Peel and Melbourne Streets, close to the point where the Victoria Bridge crossed the Brisbane River from the city and on the site where the Queensland Art Gallery now stands.

By mid-1952, the building had been converted for use as offices and storage facilities for film distribution companies. It burnt down in 1954 and was never rebuilt. (The present Cremorne Theatre, in the QPAC building, was named in honour of the historic Cremorne Theatre.)

By the late 1960s, much of South Brisbane, especially along the river, was in economic decline.

Impetus for the Queensland Cultural Centre

Queensland State Archives 23 Old Museum Building Gregory Terrace Fortitude Valley Brisbane September 1926
Old Museum Building, Gregory Terrace, 1926
Queensland State Archives 6423 Construction of extensions to the State Library of Queensland on William St Brisbane 1959
Old State Library of Queensland being extended in 1959

The pressure to address the lack of adequate cultural facilities in Queensland increased in the 1960s, as public awareness of the importance of the arts to the cultural health of the community was rising. At this time, the Queensland's principal cultural institutions were located in buildings and sites in Brisbane that did not meet their existing or future requirements. The first purpose-built Museum had opened in William Street in 1879 but proved inadequate from the outset. It was converted to the Public Library of Queensland (the State Library from 1971) in 1900-02, after the 1889 Exhibition Building at Bowen Hills was converted for use as a Museum in 1900. From 1895, the Queensland Art Gallery was housed in the Brisbane Town Hall, moving in 1905 to a purpose designed room on the third floor in the new Executive Building overlooking George Street. When the new City Hall was completed in 1930, the Concert Hall at the Museum building was remodelled to house the art gallery.

Facade of Her Majestys Theatre Brisbane circa 1898
Her Majesty's Theatre, Brisbane, circ 1898

Until the opening of the Queensland Cultural Centre, there were no Queensland government-operated performing arts facilities. Most musical and theatrical performances were initially held in local venues such as schools of arts, church halls or town halls, of varying suitability. Purpose-built facilities were limited and only erected in major centres. By the 1880s, Brisbane had four theatres, with the Opera House (later Her Majesty's Theatre), erected in 1888, the most lavish and prestigious, with seating for 2700. The Exhibition Building was one of the first buildings specifically designed for musical performances and contained a concert hall complete with a four-manual pipe organ. It became the centre for major musical events until the opening of the Brisbane City Hall in 1930.

Across Australia, the post-war era saw governments on all tiers commit to large projects related to developing the arts, including standalone and integrated landmark projects for institutions such as libraries, theatres and art galleries. Sites for such projects were often in centrally located areas, where previous uses and activities were in decline, or had become redundant. This type of urban renewal offered a blank slate for development, where the existing layout could be reconfigured and the built environment transformed. The construction of Sydney's Opera House had commenced in 1959; preliminary investigations for Adelaide Festival Centre started in 1964; the National Gallery of Australia was established in 1967; the first stage of the Victorian Arts Centre, the National Gallery of Victoria, was completed in 1969 and Perth's Civic Centre was also developed during the 1960s.

In Queensland, an earlier phase of civic construction (mostly town halls and council chambers) occurred in the 1930s, often incorporating spaces for arts and cultural activities. By the early 1950s, architect and town planner Karl Langer was designing civic centre complexes for larger regional centres such as Mackay, Toowoomba and Kingaroy.

Extension of the Old State Library
Aerial view (perspective) of Wickham Park showing proposed Dental Hospital, Art Gallery and Public Library, Turbot Street, Brisbane, 1938
Aerial view (perspective) of Wickham Park showing proposed Dental Hospital, Art Gallery and Public Library, in Turbot Street, 1938

Several attempts were made to secure stately cultural facilities in Queensland's capital but each came to nothing. Construction of an art gallery and museum near the entrance to the Government Domain, on a site granted in 1863, never eventuated. In the 1890s a major architectural competition for a museum and art gallery on a site in Albert Park sought to address the need for sufficient premises. In 1934, on a nearby site along Wickham Park and Turbot Street, an ambitious urban design proposal to incorporate a public art gallery, library and dental hospital resulted only in the construction of the Brisbane Dental Hospital. Post-WWII plans to incorporate the art gallery in the extensions to the original Supreme Court Building did not eventuate. The Queensland Art Gallery Act 1959 paved the way for a new Board of Trustees to establish a gallery with public funds subsidized by Government. The proposal at that time, for a gallery and performance hall at Gardens Point, to mark Queensland's centenary, was not realised; however, an extension to the State Library proceeded and included an exhibition hall and reading rooms.

A proposal for a State Gallery and Centre for Allied Arts, on the former municipal markets site adjacent to the Roma Street railway station, formed part of a government backed plan for the redevelopment of the Roma Street area. Prepared by Bligh Jessup Bretnall & Partners in 1967, this substantial development over a number of city blocks, inspired by the redevelopment of redundant inner city areas in Europe and new towns in America, incorporated a significant commercial component. The plan was abandoned in 1968 due to conflicting local and state interests, together with the lack of an acceptable tender.

The following year, the Treasury Department initiated a formal investigation into a suitable site for an art gallery, led by Treasurer, Deputy Premier and Liberal Party Leader, Gordon Chalk. An expert committee, including Coordinator-General Charles Barton as chair, Under-Secretary of Works David Mercer and Assistant Under-Secretary Roman Pavlyshyn, considered 12 sites, including those from previous proposals. Three sites were shortlisted: The Holy Name Cathedral site in Fortitude Valley; upstream of the Victoria Bridge at South Brisbane; and the BCC Transport Depot in Coronation Drive. The South Brisbane site was preferred, considered to be the most advantageous for the city and the most architecturally suitable. The recommendation was accepted and work on progressing a design commenced.

During 1972, the Queensland Government made a decision to build a new Queensland Art Gallery as part of the project. Later, during 1974, the government decided to build a comprehensive Queensland Cultural Centre which would include the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, the State Library of Queensland, the Queensland Museum, and the Queensland Art Gallery, so that all of these institutions would be in proximity to each other, as well as being within easy reach of the Brisbane central business district.

Architectural competition and concept

1974 flood
1974 flood of the Brisbane River in the South Brisbane area

In April 1973, Robin Gibson and Partners Architects won a two-staged competition to design the new Queensland Art Gallery at South Brisbane, with a sophisticated scheme considered superior in its simplicity and presentation. While this design was never realised, the art gallery that was built as part of the Cultural Centre was in many ways very similar, including the palette of materials and modernist design details inspired by the 1969 Oakland Museum in California. The original design occupied the block bounded by Melbourne, Grey, Stanley and Peel Streets. Over Stanley Street, a pedestrian walkway connected the gallery to the top of an amphitheatre leading to sculpture gardens along the river.

Sir Leo Hielscher public servant queensland australia
Sir Leo Hielscher

The development of cultural facilities was reconsidered during 1974, evolving into a much more ambitious project. In early November, Deputy Premier Sir Gordon Chalk (who had a real interest and commitment to developing the arts in Queensland) announced as an election policy, a proposal for a $45 million cultural complex. While the development of the Art Gallery had been progressing, Chalk, with the assistance of Under Treasurer Leo Hielscher, had covertly commissioned Robin Gibson to produce a master plan for an integrated complex of buildings which would form the Queensland Cultural Centre (QCC). The plan included an Art Gallery, Museum, Performing Arts Centre, State Library and an auditorium and restaurant. The devastating floods of January 1974, which had further hastened the decline of South Brisbane, provided a timely opportunity to utilise more space adjacent to the river, through resumptions of flood-prone land.

Dr Clem Jones AO
Clem Jones, Mayor of Brisbane

When the proposal was submitted to Cabinet by Chalk in late November, it was initially opposed by Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen. However, the support of Brisbane's Lord Mayor, Clem Jones, (who gifted council-owned allotments on what became the QPAC site); influential public servants Hielscher, Pavlyshyn; Mercer, and Sir David Muir, Director of the Department of Commercial and Industrial Development, helped the project gain momentum. After winning the December 7 election, the proposal was formally adopted by the Bjelke-Petersen government. Muir was appointed chairman of the planning committee and became the first chairman of the QCC Trust.

Gibson's November 1974 Cultural Centre master plan differed significantly from his winning competition design for the Gallery and gave Gibson the opportunity to further demonstrate his planning principles for inner city development. Stanley Street was to be diverted under the Victoria Bridge through to Peel Street, with the Art Gallery and Museum occupying one large block. The scheme included building forms with oblique angles to the street grid, to address the main approaches. The Performing Arts building, comprising a single, multi-purpose hall, and the Art Gallery, extending from the Museum to the river's edge, were aligned diagonally around a Melbourne Street axis to address the approach from the Victoria Bridge. Pedestrian bridges provided access across the site over Melbourne Street and to the South Brisbane Railway Station over Grey Street.

Retaining the approved general placement of the individual buildings, subsequent changes to the complex plan included: the orthogonal realignment of each of the buildings; the duplication of the multipurpose hall to create separate purpose-built facilities for musical and theatrical performances; the extension of an existing diversion in Stanley Street upstream to Peel Street and under the Victoria Bridge, which was bridged by a wide plaza as a forecourt to the Gallery.

Robin Gibson & Partners

Robin Gibson (1930-2014) attended Yeronga State School and Brisbane State High School before studying architecture at the University of Queensland (UQ). After graduating in 1954, Gibson travelled through Europe and worked in London in the offices of architects, Sir Hugh Casson, Neville Conder, and James Cubitt and Partners. Returning to Brisbane in 1957, he set up an architectural practice commencing with residential projects, soon expanding into larger commercial, public and institutional work. Notable Queensland architects employed by his practice included Geoffrey Pie, Don Winsen, Peter Roy, Allan Kirkwood, Bruce Carlyle and Gabriel Poole.

Robin Gibson & Partners' contribution to Queensland's built environment is significant. Other major architectural projects include: Mayne Hall, University of Queensland (UQ) (1972), Central Library, UQ (1973) Library and Humanities building at Nathan Campus, Griffith University (1975), Post Office Square (1982), Queen Street Mall (1982), Wintergarden building (1984), Colonial Mutual Life (1984) and 111 George Street (1993). Over time, Gibson and his body of work has been highly acclaimed and recognised through numerous awards including: 1968 Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA) Building of the Year award, Kenmore Church; 1982 RAIA Sir Zelman Cowen Award (for public buildings) for Queensland Art Gallery; 1982 RAIA Canberra Medallion - Belconnen Library, ACT; 1982 Queenslander of the Year; 1983 Order of Australia; 1986 Honorary Doctorate - Griffith University; 1988 Advance Australia Award; 1989 RAIA Gold Medal for outstanding performance and contributions; 2000, and the 2007 25 year RAIA award for Enduring Architecture.

Construction and completion

The design development, documentation and the multifaceted construction program for the entire complex was administered by Roman Pavlyshyn, Director of Building, Department of Public Works. Pavlyshyn had previously overseen the selection of the site and had run the competition for the Queensland Art Gallery. The Cultural Centre was to continue the Department of Public Works' tradition in providing buildings of high quality in design, materials and construction throughout the state.

The funding of the QCC came entirely from the government-owned Golden Casket. The revenue derived from the Golden Casket was effectively "freed up" from health funding after Medicare was introduced by the Whitlam government. The then annual income of $4 million was projected to fund the QCC's construction over 10 years. By the early 1980s, inflationary impacts had blown out the cost to $175 million. Under Hielscher's guidance, Queensland Treasury looked at other ways to raise revenue. In response, Instant Scratch-Its and mid-week lotto were introduced to Queensland. This successful increase in gambling revenue enabled the QCC to be built at no extra cost to the state's existing budget and without going into debt.

The construction of the Cultural Centre was a complex undertaking and involved a multifaceted program staged over 11 years with a workforce of thousands, from design consultants to onsite labourers. Pavlyshyn guided Stages One, Two and Three to completion and the commencement of Stage Four, before retiring in July 1985. With the number of contractors and suppliers involved, quality control was a critical factor for a successful outcome. For example, the consistent quality of the concrete finish was achieved by securing a guaranteed supply of the principal materials, South Australian white cement, Stradbroke Island sand and Pine River aggregates, for the duration of the project and the strict control of colour and mix for each contract.

The program commenced with the construction of the Art Gallery, the most resolved of the building designs. Stage One also included the underground carpark to the Gallery and Museum and the central services plant facility on the corner of Grey and Peel Streets. Contractors, Graham Evans & Co, commenced construction in March 1977 and the Art Gallery was officially opened by Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen on 21 June 1982.

A development plan for the largest component of the complex, the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC), built as Stage Two, was released in 1976. The project architect for the Centre was Allan Kirkwood from Robin Gibson and Partners and contributors to the development and design of the Centre were theatre consultants, Tom Brown and Peter Knowland, the Performing Arts Trust and user committees. Completed in November 1984 by contractors Barclay Bros Pty Ltd, a concert for workers and the first public performance were held in December ahead of the official opening by the Duke and Duchess of Kent on 20 April 1985.

The Centre comprised three venues, each specifically designed for particular performance types. The Lyric Theatre and Concert Hall shared an entrance off Melbourne Street with shared and mimicked foyers, bars, circulation and ancillary facilities. The Studio theatre, now the Cremorne, had a separate entrance and foyer off Stanley Street with its own discreet ancillary facilities.

The Lyric Theatre, (2200 seats) was designed for large-scale dramatic productions including opera, operettas, musicals, ballets and dance performances. It had an orchestra pit, stalls, two balconies and side aisles. The 1800 seat Concert Hall was designed for orchestral concerts, choral performances, chamber music, recitals, popular entertainment and ceremonies. A Klais Grand Organ, featuring 6500 pipes, was built into the stage area. Its "shoe box" form, designed to enhance natural acoustics, incorporated an orchestral pit, stalls, single balcony, side galleries and side aisles. The Studio Theatre was built to accommodate up to 300 seats for dramatic performances and could be configured in 6 different ways, from conventional set-ups to theatre-in-the-round. It had stalls and a balcony level with an internal connection to the other two theatres.

Opened in 1986, the Queensland Museum, (Stage Three), was connected to the Art Gallery by a covered walkway and to the Performing Arts Complex by a footbridge over Melbourne Street. The entrance on the Melbourne Street side of the building was accessed from street level and the Melbourne Street footbridge. Built over the Stage One carpark, the six-level Museum building had four floors open to the public, with the two top levels dedicated to offices, laboratories, library and artefact storage. The first floor was designed for a variety of uses, including lecture halls, back of house, preparatory area and workshops. Levels 2 to 4 showcased collections in galleries situated on either side of a central circulation core comprising walkways, stairs, lifts and escalators. The outdoor area contained a geological garden on Grey Street side (in 2014 the Energex Playasaurus Place). Stage Four included the State Library and adjacent Fountain restaurant and auditorium building (now The Edge) completed in 1988.

Public artworks

As part of the construction of the QCC, several pieces of public art were commissioned from Australian artists. Five outdoor sculptures were purchased and installed in 1985, the largest commission of public sculpture at one time in Australia. Four were directly commissioned: Anthony Pryor's Approaching Equilibrium (Steel, painted. River plaza-upper deck); Leonard and Kathleen Shillam's Pelicans (Bronze. QAG Water Mall); Ante Dabro's Sisters (Bronze. Melbourne Street plaza) and Rob Robertson-Swann's Leviathan Play (Steel, painted. Melbourne Street plaza). Clement Meadmore's Offshoot (Aluminium, painted. Gallery plaza) was an existing work.

Other public artworks commissioned at the time of construction are located at QPAC: Lawrence Daws' large interior mural, Pacific Nexus and Robert Woodward's Cascade Court Fountain.

Use and modifications

With the exception of the Fountain restaurant (now The Edge), each of the buildings within the QCC retains its original use. Subsequent modifications to cater for changing requirements have altered the buildings within the complex to varying degrees. The most significant of these changes were the addition of the Playhouse to QPAC and the multimillion-dollar Millennium Arts Project, which provided for a refurbishment of the entire complex.

QPAC was well utilised from the outset and the need for a mid-sized theatre was soon realised. Plans for Stage Five, a 750-850 seat Playhouse theatre, designed by Gibson, were produced with input from the same committees and advisers as Stage Two. Completed in 1998, the Playhouse, attached at the eastern end of QPAC, incorporated stalls, balcony, mid-stalls and balcony boxes for patron seating. It had a separate entrance off Russell Street and was separated from the rest of the complex by the loading dock. The Playhouse was refurbished between 2011-12.

The key features of the Millennium Arts Project (2002-2009) were: the addition of a new Gallery of Modern Art and public plaza; the major redevelopment of the SLQ including the addition of a fifth floor; a new entrance to the QAG, and refurbishment of the QM and QPAC.

At the north-western end of the complex, the Gallery of Modern Art, completed in 2006 was built to house Queensland's growing art collection and is linked to the rest of the complex by a public plaza.

The major refurbishment of the Library in 2006 included the addition of a fifth storey and substantial alterations to both the interior and exterior. A new entrance and new circulation patterns were established and the stepped terraces were removed, replaced by a large extension toward the river. New entrances to QAG and QM were designed by Gibson and completed in 2009.

The new art gallery entrance provided alternative access from Peel Street and included the partial enclosure of the courtyard, a new staircase, and a lift. At the Museum, in addition to the new entrance provided on the eastern end of the Museum, a café was added to the western end, the internal circulation was rearranged and a new entrance on the Grey Street elevation was created to provide access to the Sciencentre, relocated from George Street to the ground floor of the museum in 2009.

In 2009 QPAC was refurbished to meet safety standards and to improve access. A setdown area was added along Grey Street to replace the drop off tunnel which was closed in 2001. Changes to circulation included the installation of lifts and the replacement and reorientation of staircases. The lobby book shop was replaced with a bar and other bars and lobbies were refurbished, removing the salmon colour scheme in higher traffic areas. Brown carpet was installed and the red marble bar finishes were replaced with black in the Lyric Theatre foyer and white in the Concert Hall foyer. Many seats were also replaced in the Lyric and Concert Hall. The Cremorne Theatre remains largely unchanged.

The Edge, operated and managed by SLQ, was reopened in 2010 as a new facility containing workshops, spaces for creative activities, events and exhibitions. The dropped restaurant floor was filled and new lifts installed. Wide scale changes were made to interior fit-out and finishes. The auditorium floor was replaced, and new openings were created in the rear and side elevations. The external structure was modified at ground level with changes to access and the loading dock which was made obsolete by changes to SLQ car park entry. The major external change was cosmetic and involved the enclosure of the open verandah with pre-fabricated steel window bays to create riverfront study and meeting spaces.

2014 proposed redevelopment

In 2014, the Australian Institute of Architects applied to give the Queensland Cultural Centre heritage status to protect it from proposals by the Newman government to add high-rise buildings to the site. The application attracted 1254 public submissions (a record for the heritage register). On 12 June 2015, the Queensland Cultural Centre was granted heritage status. However, the listing on the Queensland Heritage Register covers only the 1980s buildings; the remodelled State Library of Queensland building and the more recent Gallery of Modern Art are explicitly excluded from the heritage listing.


602844 - Queensland Cultural Centre - Map 2 (2017)
Map showing the extent of the heritage listing, 2017

The Queensland Cultural Centre is an extensive low-rise complex comprising four cultural institutions, associated ancillary facilities and spaces located on the bank of the Brisbane River at South Brisbane. Set against the backdrop of the Taylor Range skirting greater Brisbane, the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG), Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC), Queensland Museum (QM), The Edge and the central services facility and connecting plazas and walkways retain a coherent architectural form. The reworked Queensland State Library (SLQ) building and the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) at the western end of the complex, are not considered to be of cultural heritage significance and are not included within the heritage register boundary.

The site, stretching more than 450 metres (1,480 ft) along the river, is bounded by Grey, Peel and Russell Streets and bisected by Melbourne Street, a major thoroughfare connecting South Brisbane to the CBD on the north bank via the Victoria Bridge. Across the site, the components of the Centre are connected by subway tunnels, external plazas, elevated covered walkways and a spinal bridge across Melbourne Street.

Primary circulation between entities is organised around a pedestrian spine running from QPAC across Melbourne Street, between the QM the QAG (known as the Whale mall) and joining the plaza shared by the SLQ and GOMA.

Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC)

Performing Arts Complex
Queensland Performing Arts Centre viewed from Victoria Bridge

The Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC), which is also located at South Bank, and is also part of the Queensland Cultural Centre, was opened in 1985. QPAC contains some of Brisbane's main theatres (Lyric Theatre, Concert Hall, Cremorne Theatre, and the Playhouse), and the Tony Gould Gallery which is operated by the Queensland Museum and displays historical material related to theatre in Queensland. In 2008, the Queensland Government closed QPAC and allocated A$34.7 million for the complete refurbishment of the building under the direction of Cox Rayner Architects. The centre re-opened in 2009.

The stage and the stalls seen from the main balcony, Lyric Theatre, Brisbane 02
The stage and the stalls seen from the main balcony, Lyric Theatre

The largest individual component of the complex is QPAC, standing on the southern side of Melbourne Street. QPAC comprises four venues: Concert Hall, Lyric Theatre, Cremorne Theatre and Playhouse.

Two courtyards provide a setback from Melbourne Street, one accommodates the large, semi-circular Cascade Court Fountain, the other is landscaped and grassed.

The principal entrance is from Melbourne Street, providing access to the Lyric Theatre and Concert Hall; a secondary entrance from Russell Street accesses the Playhouse, and an entrance from the Cultural Centre Forecourt provides access to the Cremorne Theatre. The building is organised so the four venues back onto a shared, central backstage area accessed from Grey Street. The "black box" volumes of the venues are wrapped by the main foyers overlooking Melbourne Street and secondary foyers along the sides to the river and Grey Street.

The multi-level foyers comprise a series of broad stairs passing through a variety of volumes. Expanses of glazing are shaded by vertical concrete fins supporting horizontal grids of stainless steel. These elements cast a bold, graphic pattern of light and shadow into the foyer, heightening the visual drama during the day. At night, the brightly-lit foyers are strikingly-presented through the tall concrete frames, visible from the surrounding area. A large wall within the grand staircase between the two largest venues prominently displays the Lawrence Daws mural Pacific Nexus. The bars are clad with boldly-coloured marble and from the foyers there are attractive views of the river and city as well as of other parts of the QCC.

Cremorne Theatre Entrance 2016
Entrance to the Cremorne Theatre, 2016

The Concert Hall, an auditorium with a capacity of 1,6000 to 1,800 seats, is a long "shoe-box" space accommodating a stage, orchestra pit, upholstered stalls seating, a single rear balcony and long side galleries. The auditorium is designed for a long reverberation time, ideal for a big orchestral sound. The space is able to be varied acoustically to give appropriate acoustic definition to other modes of performance. Interior finishes include Johnstone River hardwood flooring and tiers, sand-blasted white concrete and veneered-plywood walls. A white plasterboard coffered ceiling incorporates theatrical lighting pods. The Concert Hall accommodates the Klais Grand Organ with its 6500 pipes arranged symmetrically as a central focus on the rear stage wall.

The Lyric Theatre, an auditorium with a proscenium stage and seating capacity for 2,000, accommodates an orchestra pit, raking stalls and two upper balconies of seating. Designed for a mid-range reverberation time ideal for opera, the space is able to be varied acoustically for light opera, musicals and drama by manipulating absorptive panels in the ceiling. Interior finishes include: colour-graduated velour house-curtain; carpeted floors and tiers; stained, veneered-plywood wall panelling; aluminium-tube lower ceiling and plasterboard upper ceiling; and upholstered theatre seating.

QPAC Playhouse (2015)
Playhouse Theatre, 2015

Cremorne Theatre, a flexible space with six configurations and seating capacity of 200-300, is an auditorium with a flat floor, moveable tiers of collapsible seating, moveable modular stage elements, an upper surround balcony with removable balustrade, lighting bridges, overhead props and lighting grid and control rooms. Interior finishes reflect the basic functional aspect of the space: timber floor, white plasterboard walls and ceiling, upholstered seating and dark acoustic curtains at the walls.

The Playhouse, a proscenium theatre with a capacity of 850 seats, accommodates stalls, mid-stalls, a balcony and balcony boxes for patron seating. Foyers address Russell Street with a corner bias to Stanley Street, with grand staircases and expressed lifts at each end and outside balconies to both foyer levels.

Ancillary spaces provide front and back of house facilities, dining, bars, ticket office, Green Room, dressing, rehearsal, administration and storage. Throughout, the building retains original furniture and fittings designed by Robin Gibson and Partners.

Queensland Art Gallery (QAG)

Queensland Art Gallery, Queensland Cultural Centre (2014)
Queensland Art Gallery, as seen from the riverside plaza, 2014

The Queensland Art Gallery (formerly Queensland National Art Gallery), was established in 1895. The gallery has had many homes, and moved to its present location at the Queensland Cultural Centre at South Bank during 1982. The gallery provides 4,700 square metres (51,000 sq ft) of viewing space and includes a water mall, fountains, water sculptures, an outdoor area and gardens.

The Queensland Art Gallery, a three-storey building with extensive landscaped plazas and gardens, stands to the north side of Melbourne Street, and northeast of the Whale mall pedestrian spine. Standing above two levels of car parking (Levels 1 and 2), the building accommodates two storeys of public exhibition galleries with ancillary administration offices (Levels 3 and 4) and a storey of administration offices, art conservation workshops, and collection store room (Level 5).

The building and its plazas/gardens are integrated: large internal galleries are visibly connected to external sculpture gardens; and planter boxes are integrated into the structure internally and externally. To the riverside of the QAG stands a large landscaped plaza of flat lawns, concrete raised garden beds, and rectangular concrete pads falling to the river in a steep landscaped embankment. The plazas/gardens contain sculptures and fountains by important Australian artists including Approaching Equilibrium (Anthony Pryoro), Pelicans (Leonard and Kathleen Shillam), Sisters (Ante Dabro), Leviathan Play (Rob Robertson-Swann) and Offshoot (Clement Meadmore).

Main foyer of Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
Water mall, Queensland Art Gallery, 2019

The original main entry to the gallery is from the riverside plaza. An entrance to the southeast corner is the primary approach for pedestrians arriving from the city across the Victoria Bridge. The "Robin Gibson Entry", a curved glass structure opening from the SLQ/GOMA plaza, is now the main entrance. On entry, visitors are drawn to the key orientation space, the Watermall.

The colour and material palette of the gallery is muted, mainly comprising white-painted, coffered concrete slab ceilings and plasterboard walls, large expanses of sand-coloured concrete walls and travertine floors. Differing floor finishes are important to the functioning of the galleries: substantial areas in general traffic zones are finished with large travertine slabs; travertine also runs in narrow bands along walls as a deterrent to touching the paintings; timber parquetry is extensive. The building retains original furniture designed by Robin Gibson and Partners.

Queensland Museum (QM)

Queensland Museum-Sciencentre
Queensland Museum and Sciencentre main entrance with pedestrian bridge (right)

The Queensland Museum was established in 1862, and has had many homes, including The Old Windmill (1862–1869) – Parliament House (1869–1873) – General Post Office (1873–1879) – followed by being based at a building on William Street, which was later home to John Oxley Library (1879–1899) – the Exhibition Hall, now called the Old Museum Building (1899–1986). The Queensland Museum moved to the Queensland Cultural Centre at South Bank during 1986 and includes 6,500 square metres (70,000 sq ft) of floor space. In addition to the main museum area, the building also houses the Queensland Sciencentre, a permanent interactive science exhibition suited for people of all ages. It plays an important role in educating people about new developments in the sciences.

Queensland Museum stands to the north side of Melbourne Street, and southwest of the Whale mall pedestrian spine. It is a seven-storey building accommodating four levels of public exhibition spaces; and provision for administration and research offices, a library and collection storage.

Queensland Museum precinct flooded
Queensland Museum garden, during the 2011 Brisbane floods

The monolithic, square-form building is a closed box providing a controlled climate for exhibits. A large, deep aperture is cut into the solid concrete wall on Grey Street and accommodates a dramatic, three-storey garden. Other elevations are generally solid. A plaza forecourt to Melbourne Street with broad concrete stairs provides the main entry to the building. A prominent, glazed, double-height escalator hall projects from the front elevation and leads up to the large, main foyer on Level 2.

The plan comprises large, open floor plates either side of a broad central spine of vertical circulation, voids and service spaces. The exhibition levels step at half levels to each other either side of the spine, allowing visitors to orient themselves and for a sequential experience of the exhibits. The exhibition spaces are varied in size to cater for a range of exhibit sizes. The offices on Levels 5 and 6 access generous garden balconies on the northeastern side with views across the lower QAG to the Brisbane River.

Accessed from Grey Street is an open-air loading dock, shared with QAG.

Ancillary services plant

Adjacent to QM stands a tall, detached ancillary building providing accommodation for a services plant providing shared mechanical services across QCC.

Cultural Centre Forecourt

Cultural forecourt from Victoria Bridge (2015)
Cultural forecourt, as seen from Victoria Bridge, 2015

The Cultural Centre Forecourt is a flat, open, landscaped plaza along the river edge to the southeast elevation of QPAC. The Forecourt provides access to the Cremorne Theatre and other functions of QPAC and the underground carpark beneath; the adjacent road accesses the underground carpark beneath QAG.

Pedestrian spine including the Whale Mall

A broad, concrete pedestrian concourse stretches from the Melbourne Street entrance of QPAC, bridges Melbourne Street, runs between QM and QAG, and joins the plaza shared by SLQ and GOMA. Between the QM and QAG it is a grand, axial spine known as the Whale Mall and comprises a high volume space lit by barrel-vaulted skylights, accommodates slit windows into the QAG and secondary entrances to the QM.

The Edge, the former Fountain Room

EDGE - Brisbane Meetup2017
Entrance to The Edge, 2017

The former Fountain Room, in 2015 known as The Edge, is a three-storey, rectangular building approximately 30 by 15 metres (98 ft × 49 ft) standing adjacent to the river. Pedestrian walkways link the building with the plaza shared with the SLQ to the northwest and the QAG riverside plaza to the south and provide access to the middle and upper levels of The Edge; the upper walkway is lit by square openings to the sky. The interior retains evidence of the original layout. The middle level accommodates a large, double-height auditorium; a smaller auditorium on the upper level opens onto an external gathering space. The gathering space comprises a flat lawn surrounded by a concrete planter bed balustrades and rectangular concrete pads.

State Library of Queensland

State Library of Queensland 2008
State Library of Queensland, 2008

Established in 1896 and originally called the Public Library of Queensland, it was renamed the State Library of Queensland in 1902 was established in 1896. In its history, it had many homes including a long period in a building in William Street 1899–1988 – following which it moved to its present location near the Queensland Museum and the Queensland Art Gallery, as part of the Queensland Cultural Centre. The State Library was extensively renovated at its South Bank address during 2006, and reopened in December of that year. Along with the usual facilities of a library, the building contains an historical archive called the John Oxley Library, several galleries in which exhibitions are held throughout the year, lecture rooms and an Indigenous Knowledge Centre called kuril dhagun. A kuril is a native marsupial and dhagun means "meeting place". Therefore, the literal meaning is "kuril's place". This kuril dhagun is part of a Queensland-wide network of research facilities serving the needs of Indigenous Australians (the Aboriginal Australians and the Torres Strait Islanders).

Queensland Gallery of Modern Art

Queensland Gallery of Modern Art at dusk, Brisbane, 2019
Queensland Gallery of Modern Art main entrance

The Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, which operates in association with the Queensland Art Gallery, was built at Kurilpa Point, upstream from the rest of the centre and near the William Jolly Bridge. It opened in December 2006. In addition to the display areas, it contains the Australian Cinémathèque which has two cinemas and the Children's Art Centre in which children are able to interact with the galleries collection. In 2007 a three manual 15 rank Wurlitzer Style 260 theatre organ, Opus 2040, originally installed in the Brisbane's Regent Theatre was restored by the Queensland Art Gallery with financial assistance from the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation and installed in the Cinémathèque Cinema 2. The instrument is now being used regularly for the presentation of silent movies and for recitals.

Pedestrian bridge

Cultural Centre busway front
Pedestrian bridge over Melbourne Street and the Cultural Centre busway

The buildings of the Queensland Cultural Centre are connected by a pedestrian bridge over the Cultural Centre busway station. This bridge connects the Queensland Performing Arts Centre over Melbourne Street with the building containing both the Queensland Museum and the Queensland Art Gallery and provides ready access to buses at the Cultural Centre Busway Station.

Heritage listing

Queensland Cultural Centre was listed on the Queensland Heritage Register on 12 June 2015.

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