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Howard Smith Wharves is Queensland’s first Heritage Hero

Howard Smith Wharves is Queensland’s first Heritage Hero

Brisbane’s newest urban renewal masterpiece is the state's first to be named a Heritage Hero by the National Trust of Australia.

Howard Smith Wharves is a culturally important precinct on the Brisbane River. Originally built in 1936, the site is a symbol for the city’s role as Queensland’s premier port. The National Trust of Australia honor acknowledges preservation efforts that reimagine historical sites so that patrons can further enjoy them and appreciate their significance. 

Recognising the fantastic opportunities for sustainable development, the precinct regeneration plan by the Brisbane studio of global practice Woods Bagot focused on creating a high-quality public realm that celebrates its history and dramatic waterfront location. The design approach has been to reinforce, amplify and reinterpret these elements in the masterplan for the 3.4 hectare historic wharf.

Woods Bagot director and project design leader, Mark Damant, said the precinct’s new buildings occupy less than 10 per cent of the site and are designed to complement the industrial language of the existing structures.

“The scheme is all about retaining views and celebrating heritage, with a generous and contemporary public realm environment knitting it all together,” said Damant.

Howard Smith Wharves is Queensland’s first Heritage Hero
Howard Smith Wharves. Image: Jad Sylla

The largest event space in the precinct is Howard’s Hall, also designed by Woods Bagot. It echoes the simple functionality of nearby wharf structures with a fully glazed exposed steel frame, a light, shed-like saw tooth roof and operable walls that can be manipulated for various purposes. Each material is humble and unpretentious, such as the timber decked arrival space and the rooftop terraces made from wood reclaimed from elsewhere on the site.

There are lofty ceilings to create a sense of airiness and light, retractable floor-to-ceiling windows (designed to capitalise on that prime riverfront location), and ultra-nimble, flexible space-in-spaces—including rooftop terraces and rooms of varying sizes—that allow multiple events to be hosted at once.

Retail and service pods at either end of the hall activate adjacent open spaces which themselves allow the interior event capacities to be extended.

“This will become one of the city’s most memorable spaces, set against one of its most heroic views,” said Damant. “The panorama it offers is absolutely incredible: the arches of Story Bridge, looking back at the city, across to Kangaroo Point and down the New Farm reach of the Brisbane River.”

Scott Bayne, general manager of events at Howard Smith Wharves, described Woods Bagot’s design ethos as instrumental to the space

“Woods Bagot understood, from the outset, that the space had incredible potential to be a first-class venue,” Bayne said.

Project details

  • Project: Howard’s Hall at Howard Smith Wharves
  • Location: Brisbane, Australia
  • Client: HSW Nominees Pty Ltd
  • Woods Bagot scope: Architecture / Interior Design
  • Status: Completed November 2018
  • Height: Howard’s Hall is one storey. The kitchen pod/lift lobby located at the eastern and western wing of the building is two storeys.

Lead image: David Millar 

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