2017 Inception Award | House of the People


This project brings to life a dilapidated heritage building and celebrates its unique qualities. Built 115 years ago, the existing, huge, four storey building was a retail empire. It was favoured among many and often referred to as the ‘House of the People’ for the excellent customer service and extensive range of goods it provided. The building stands proudly between Brunswick and Duncan Street in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane. It was added to the Heritage Register in 2003 but for the most part has been unoccupied and left in ruins. The aim of this project is to: “Bring a heritage building back to its former glory by responding to and celebrating the story within the history of the building”.
Heritage buildings enhance the urban landscape – providing historic authenticity and contributing to place distinctiveness. They enrich city life and provide a point of difference between places – an attraction for tourists. Adapting them for re-use has environmental, economic, and social benefits. What a valuable resource heritage buildings can be when utilised effectively! However, there are numerous heritage buildings that have been destroyed or left to sit in ruins – their value overlooked.

The objective of this project is to offer a new way of thinking about re-using heritage buildings. Inspiration was drawn from the careful way the natural landscape is considered when designing architectural insertions into the land. Architect of the post-war period, Frank Lloyd Wright, developed a set of principles titled the Gaia Charter, which emphasise designing to bring harmony between nature and man. Likewise, 21st century Australian Architect, Glenn Murcutt, has a motto when designing for natural sites, which is to, “touch the earth lightly”. This means to cautiously make an architectural insertion, but always leave the natural surroundings looking more beautiful. This project draws a parallel between the natural landscape and the urban landscape and will approach the heritage buildings as special sites within the urban landscape by cautiously making an “insertion” that is respectfully in sync with its surroundings.
A Heritage Design Philosophy was developed that guided the design process. It was created by overlaying the Gaia Charter with the Burra Charter. The Burra Charter was helpful in providing a basic set of best practice standards for cultural heritage places in Australia. It championed preserving buildings authentically rather than either gutting the interior to only keep the heritage facade or replicating the historic setting. Ultimately the Heritage Design Philosophy is about creating harmony between the history of a heritage building and people. The philosophy developed says to let the design:
Be inspired by the story of the building – be unique, individual, independent, and interesting.
Unfold, from the building, from the layers of history within.
Exist to meet the needs of today.
Be adapted as much as necessary to make it useable.
Change it as little as possible to retain cultural significance.
Satisfy social, physical, and spiritual needs.
Grow out of the site and be unique.
Celebrate the past, present and future.
Express the rhythm of change like the seasons and the power of life and the memories they hold.

Conceptualising the design followed a three step process. Firstly, research was undertaken on the heritage aspects of the site to uncover the ‘story’ within its history and what it meant to people. The physical building and site location were vigorously analysed to uncover opportunities and strengths. And finally, the purpose and use for the building were developed in response to the story and the physical opportunities within the site.
The building was designed specifically for Thomas Charles Beirne by Architect Robin Dods in 1903 in the style of classicism. Most notably, the buildings features a classical inspired facade, timber pressed metal ceiling, and a heritage clerestory roof. Drawing inspiration from the story of the building it will once again become the, “House of the People” by creating a venue that caters for many different age groups. Overall, the four-storey building will have a hospitality precinct on the ground floor, commercial workspace and a boutique hotel split across the upper levels that will feed into the restaurant businesses below. Lastly, a cinema is located in one section of the building but across all levels.
For the purpose of this conceptual project the ground floor was developed. The interior has been designed to respond to the original classical architecture by using symmetry, proportion and pure geometry both in plan and built form. A reinterpretation of a vaulted dome ceiling features throughout, creating a grand experience. Historical images were sourced of the existing facade and interior views back in its heyday as a retail empire and this further clarified the direction of the 3D language. The materials chosen complement the heritage brick and pressed white metal ceiling. The glamour of the brass and marble are countered with more humble materials such as natural timber and the white Barrisol ceiling.