King George Square an ‘ugly duckling’

Brisbane King George Square, once a park, will soon be designated as a mall. Photo: Michelle Smith Brisbane King George Square, once a park, will soon be designated as a mall. Photo: Michelle Smith
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Brisbane King George Square, once a park, will soon be designated as a mall. Photo: Michelle Smith

Brisbane King George Square, once a park, will soon be designated as a mall. Photo: Michelle Smith

In 2006, the people of Brisbane were promised a redeveloped King George Square would become the city’s premier civic destination.

Fast forward three years and even then Lord Mayor Campbell Newman had to admit the nearly $30 million revitalisation project had missed the mark.

Five years on, King George Square remains more city thoroughfare than civic destination and Brisbane City Council seems to be acknowledging the space has become little more than an extension of the nearby Queen Street Mall by moving to reclassify it accordingly.

Yet current Lord Mayor Graham Quirk stands steadfastly by the redevelopment, describing it as a public space Brisbane residents can be proud of.

“The success of King George Square speaks for itself,” he said.

“King George Square was host to 213 events last financial year, attracting more than 200,000 people.

“This is a busy and well-utilised public space with 20,000 visitors each day and annual usage by 7.3 million people.”

He said one of the main priorities of the re-design, and the reason behind the installation of the much-maligned pavers, was to make it as flexible as possible.

“The former design was not sustainable, even with the lower numbers of visitors, the grassed areas were not suitable for events or high-volume pedestrian traffic,” he said.

But while the Lord Mayor remains a committed defender of the design, planning and architectural experts do not share his enthusiasm.

While plenty of people pass through, during the day at least, few remain.

Fairfax Media sought the opinions of three Brisbane experts, who all agreed more work needs to be done.

But all say the potential still remains for the controversial space to become the CBD’s premier civic destination.

Adjunct Associate Professor Phil Heywood

Queensland University of Technology’s school of civil engineering and built environment

The QUT lecturer said he tells his students King George Square is an example of how not to do urban design.

But all is not lost, he said, because it is, in its current form, a clean slate for future development.

“King George Square is an urban disaster but it is a temporary urban disaster,” he said.

“I think it is now the ugly duckling that one day could emerge as the beautiful young swan.”

Adjunct Associate Professor Heywood described the square’s revamped design as “a rather shallow copy of Federation Square in Melbourne” and pointed to its lack of shelter, lack of shade, lack of heritage and lack of function as contributing to what he deemed the design disaster.

He advocated re-establishing the square as a cultural precinct, with artwork, sculpture and heritage features, as well as shade installations and the addition of more greenery along both the Ann Street and Adelaide Street sides.

“It does lack greenery and that’s what people so regret, they feel so deprived there were flowerbeds and lawns that were certainly very engaging,” he said.

“My students questioned a reasonably large sample of users at two different times of the week and they were all hurrying on somewhere.

“All said it was a passage and when asked to say if there was anything good about it they said it was useful to get to where they were going.”

Adjunct Associate Professor Heywood praised the designs of the nearby Anzac Square and Post Office Square and said there was no reason King George Square could not be used in a similar way.

“The space could be awash with vitality,” he said.

“City Hall was always wonderful and is even better now, activities could flow out of City Hall into the Square in front of it.”

“I have high enthusiasm, absolutely, for Post Office and Anzac Square, you go there at lunch time and see the wonderful public use, people sitting and eating sandwiches, small dogs on leads, people staying in the space and greeting each other.

“The whole thing is an integrated urban space.”

Richard Kirk

President, Australia Institute of Architects Queensland chapter

Mr Kirk said the disastrous redevelopment of the square in part reflected the lack of planning that went into it, planning the institute was not consulted about.

“It’s one of those areas the city has always struggled to get right and this demonstrates the importance of getting the design process right,” he said.

“We always maintain if you have a good process, you have a good outcome.

“With any new public space or major civic space, the institute would be hopefully have the project proponents engage with us and conduct and authorised design competition.”

He said last decade’s revamp was the second undertaken in the square in its history and now, it looked like it would require a third.

But he said there was no simple solution to transforming it into a space people wanted to use.

“These sorts of projects are complex, it’s a complex part of the city,” he sid.

“I think fundamentally it gets the basics right but I think the perception is the surfaces are all too hard.

“However, that’s what makes it a multi-function space, so that’s a difficult balance to get right.”

He said the car park underneath complicated the addition of greenery but there were other simple measures that could be introduced to make it more user-friendly.

“The challenge is it’s not a typical park with a ground underneath, it’s an engineered space and that’s the challenge,” he said.

“There is possibly not a simple solution, and that creates yet another layer of complexity, keeping these spaces simple and uncluttered but responsive.

“Creating pockets people can occupy, like in traditional parks, with grouping of trees and seating is something simple that could be done, it doesn’t need much.”

Chris Isles

Vice president, Urban Development Institute of Australia (Queensland)

Mr Isles said King George Square’s time as public parkland had passed.

The director of the Brisbane-based Place Design Group was the only one of the trio to advocate increased commercialisation of the space in order to improve its usage.

“All public spaces need to evolve with the times, the good old days of having town meetings and rallies there are gone and we need to evolve with current trends,” he said.

“The way we socialise as groups now is very, very different to the way it was when it was designed.

“I think they need to be adaptable spaces to how people live and entertain and socialise.”

Mr Isles, who worked with Brisbane City Council on the recent redevelopment of Fortitude Valley’s Brunswick Street Mall, pointed to the enormous popularity of the weekly farmer’s markets in Reddacliff Place as an example of how city spaces can be best utilised.

He said he believed the addition of pop-up operators would greatly enhance its appeal.

“There’s no overwhelming reason to go there,” he said.

“I certainly think all spaces could do with more shade and bits and pieces but I think it needs to be a flexible space.

“By having it paved gives it the greatest flexibility and that’s more important than having grass on a day to day basis, so there can be Spiegel tents and launches and markets.

“I think the city is evolving and we are more social people.

“If the community and council can engage, it can be used for a greater group of people and a greater range of events.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.