Q&A with Liam Proberts - Director, bureau^proberts


Since commencing architectural practice in late 1990, Liam has focused on creating a vibrant design culture in business as well as creating unique and valued architecture for his clients and the region. His experience and contributions range across individual houses, education facilities and significant public projects.

Raised and educated in inner Brisbane, Liam’s initial focus was on subtropical living and in providing solutions for the urban renewal of his city. As co-founder of bureau^proberts his influence has encompassed wider areas of design and architecture.

Liam has lead the design teams for the following award winning projects: Grey Street Hotel & Apartments South Bank, National Police Memorial in Canberra, Mulwith Building at Loreto College and the Queensland Rail North Yards in Townsville (also known as Central).
How does your approach to design help to meet the objectives of your developer clients?
Our focus is always on meeting our client’s needs and exceeding their expectations. Our design process has its foundations set in problem solving, but is also shaped by many factors - an important one being our intrinsic appreciation for art.

Our love of art has played an important role in our approach to design and architecture — it makes projects distinguishable, which makes them more desirable and more commercially successful. On its own, it adds value by adding character but it is the way we combine it with problem-solving that brings another element to our projects.

SILT Apartments is a good example of how we overcame a major site problem — noise. The noise problem associated with being so close to the Story Bridge had a direct effect on our design response and led to the distinctive external character of the building, which increased its appeal to the market.
You have a particular expertise in multi-residential, mixed use developments. What do you think Brisbane’s urban objectives in regard to these kinds of projects should be and are they currently being achieved?
I think they’re being achieved in part. I believe that commercial development has the greatest influence on how we will live in and enjoy our cities in the future. The quality and variety of developments shapes the character of the city, as well as being of value to the developer. We need to look at how to encourage diverse projects that can be commercially successful and create a positive experience for the people who live and work in them.
What projects are you working on at the moment?

We are working on a few large-scale residential developments of 200-600 apartments on large sites in Brisbane such as Westmark Milton. Student housing is also emerging as a trend in Brisbane, as is aged care developments — we’re working on some owner/occupier single-bed houses. It’s an example of the greater diversity of urban apartments being developed now. We are also doing some tertiary work (Queensland University of Technology and Griffith University), public works, and we’re working in South East Asia as well.
What are the differences in the way Brisbane approaches design and urban planning to that of other cities? 
Compared to Sydney and Melbourne, Brisbane is a massive jurisdiction — it has one big city plan made up of lots of smaller neighbourhood plans. The city plan lays a structure over the whole of the city, which allows the government to influence the character of Brisbane in a meaningful way by providing incentives to developers. For example, a few years ago Brisbane needed more hotel rooms, so the government gave a major incentive to developers for hotel projects, and this led to more hotels being built across the board. Also, because these incentives encourage development on such a large scale, it encourages diversity in the kinds of developments that are built.
How important is it to have planning guidelines for smaller urban areas within a larger jurisdiction?
Sydney and Melbourne are divided into many small municipalities, which means there is no overriding plan that can create a change throughout the whole of the city through incentives. It is also more difficult to get approval for developments because the rules vary from area to area.

On the other hand, Brisbane’s neighbourhood plans are a powerful tool for encouraging developers to respond to the character of a specific city area and lead to more successful outcomes for developers. Wherever it is – Nundah, or New Farm, people want to feel connected and the neighbourhood plans help deliver this. This is a real plus for developers because it helps them build projects that deliver more attractive developments to the market, while at the same time making a real contribution to the urban fabric of Brisbane.

For example, with the M&A Apartments project in Fortitude Valley we took advantage of the character of the Valley — the nooks and crannies — and created a new public laneway that continues the street pattern of the area. It also opened up retail space and became a real asset for our client.

Furthermore, in Sydney and Melbourne you do get ‘champions’ of particular areas – for example, the City of Sydney has its own authority to manage development. I think Brisbane can learn from that. Brisbane’s cultural centre would benefit from more incentives for high quality design developments and a special body to promote this could strongly influence the cultural heart of the city in a positive way.

Where do you see the most rapid change in the way you design buildings? How is this technology changing the way you design buildings?
Technology has markedly changed the way we represent buildings with photo real representations in the last few years. The impact on the way we work has been twofold – we are forced to get to a real design solution sooner, and we are able to show clients and authorities the building in the round. The technology also gives us incredible scope for developing the detailing of the job, and then the design goes straight to the steel maker.
What social trends do developers need to know about now?
The social trend that is defining this century is urbanisation. Combined with the digital age, this means people value individuality of their spaces more – it is becoming very important for developers to give character to the places where people live, work and play.

Other important trends that are having a significant impact are ageing, and people living on their own. Increasing urbanization leads to diversity in the city population that requires a diversity of housing options. Brisbane is now catching up with the population’s needs — in the last 18 months, there’s been a massive boom in the building of compact and affordable apartments. This boom has raised awareness that you can live in apartments in a tropical city, so the design of these smaller dwellings is changing now and they are becoming more diverse.

The variety and quality of offerings of large urban projects is important. The value equation is this – if a place has a sense of heart, a unique and identifiable character, people want to be there. Micro cultures emerge as urbanisation grows. Developers can use this to tap into the market better and make their projects more successful.

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