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Date PostedFebruary 26, 2016

High Rises in Brisbane – History and Future

By world standards Brisbane isn’t exactly a massive city: citizens of Hong Kong and New York would probably barely consider us a city at all. But Brisbane is still the third largest city in Australia, and it seems that every few days a new skyscraper raises its head above its fellows. Brisbane has grown up a lot from the early days of its history: looking at it from a distance you could be forgiven for thinking it was full of nothing but modern towers of glass and steel.

But that’s part of the beauty of Brisbane, its history is hidden at street level. Though the rest of the city has grown up around them, the historic buildings of early Brisbane can be found lurking amongst the CBD, adding character and feel to a city on the up and up. Brisbane has a lively construction industry and many local companies doing their best to grow the city, including engineering firms, concreting companies and formwork hire companies in Brisbane . Let’s take a look at the history of Brisbane’s high rises, and how the city’s facade is going to change in the coming years.

Early Brisbane

Brisbane in its early years was full of classic architecture. Only some of it has survived to the modern day, but enough is still around to make classic Victorian buildings a common sight. Notable historic buildings include Perry House, Craigstone Flats and Ascot Chambers among many others. The history of some of these early Brisbane high rises is fascinating, providing a glimpse into the sort of city it once was.

Perry House

Perry House was built in the early 20th Century to house the Perry brothers’ hardware business. It was originally seven stories but had an eighth added in 1923. Dwarfed today by the skyscrapers surrounding it, Perry House was the tallest building in Brisbane for a time. As you can imagine, this created great interest for the early residents of Brisbane, and though its construction was marred by strikes and delays it became a landmark of the fledgling city. Today Perry House is known as the Royal Albert Hotel.


Perry House, constructed in 1912, still stands.

Colonial Mutual Life Building (Manor Apartment Hotel)

Though not even half the height of the modern definition, the Mutual Life Building was still Brisbane’s tallest “skyscraper” until 1961. Very thin yet long, the Mutual Life Building almost melds into the structure next to it. The building’s style harks of the classic art deco style of architecture which is extensively seen in New York buildings of the same era. The building is another that is historically listed, still standing strong on George Street.


The interesting style of the Colonial Mutual Life Building causes it to stand out amongst Brisbane’s architecture.

Ascot Chambers


Brisbane’s first skyscraper! Ascot Chambers was built in the mid 1920’s to become Brisbane’s first official skyscraper. Tragically it was allowed to be demolished in 1995 to make way for the Tattersalls building which now occupies the lot. It’s destruction meant the loss of a huge chunk of Brisbane history. Built in the eponymous palazzo style of the time, Ascot Chambers was a turning point for Brisbane, marking its progress towards a modern skyline. The tattersalls building which replaced it does not quite have the same impact…

Contemporary Brisbane

Brisbane’s modern appearance first began to be realised in the early 1970’s, with the hasty construction of several buildings over 100 metres in height taking place. The Suncorp Metway Plaza, Emirates House, the State Law Building, AMP Place and the Westpac Building were all built in this decade, and Brisbane’s skyline took a marked turn for the taller. From the 70s onwards, skyscraper construction in Brisbane continued rather consistently. During the 1980s and the 1990s, several large scale construction projects filled in the skyline. Let’s take a look at some particularly impressive examples of contemporary Brisbane architecture.

State Law Building


Despite being nearly forty years old, the State Law Building is still one of Brisbane’s most striking, in part thanks to the massive, incredibly effective refurbishment it underwent in 1995. This transformed it from the previously drab, run of the mill office block it had been into a gothic, glass masterpiece which has become affectionately known as the Batman Building. This is one of the finest facelift jobs every performed on a skyscraper, and was carried out by local formwork hire Brisbane companies, showcasing local talent. The State Law building appropriately houses the offices of the Department of Justice, and its style, though technically postmodern, harks back to the Victorian designs which dominate Brisbane’s historical buildings. This is largely thanks to the distinctive roof which makes it stand out, not just among Brisbane’s other buildings, but amongst skyscrapers worldwide.

Suncorp Metro Plaza


The State Law Building blends gothic and postmodern architecture to great effect.

The Suncorp Metro Plaza is a great example of the sterling development Brisbane has undergone. Upon its completion in 1971 it was the tallest building in Brisbane – today it ranks a lowly 32nd, and is set to further tumble down the ladder as new developments take hold. The fact that in barely 40 years a building could drop more than 30 places on the list of tallest shows just how much investment in infrastructure there has been in Brisbane over this period. The Suncorp Metro Plaza’s lowly position in terms of height hierarchy does not take away from its important place in Brisbane’s skyline.  Looming over King George Square, it marks an important transition in Brisbane’s history, and the clock which stands on its roof is the tallest in the country.

AMP Place


Along with the State Law Building, AMP Place is one of the more striking examples of Brisbane’s architecture. Its gold facade has given it the local name of “The Gold Tower” and sets it apart from the buildings which surround it, though many are higher and more spectacular in other ways. AMP Place was completed in 1977, taking over the title of Brisbane’s tallest building, yet like so many others which have held that title it was not able to retain it for long. Instead it relies on its glimmering facade to remain a landmark Brisbane skyscraper.

Central Plaza 1


Built during the midst of Australia’s Bicentennial celebrations and the furore over Brisbane’s hosting of World Expo ‘88, Central Plaza became synonymous with both events and became something of a Brisbane icon. Its high profile was increased thanks to being designed by the renowned architect Kurokawa Kisho and by becoming Brisbane’s tallest skyscraper upon its completion, a position it held all the way up until 2005. It currently holds sixth place on that list. Central Plaza 1 was the first of three buildings constructed in its complex, with its siblings being completed in 1990 and 2008.

Infinity Tower


Completed relatively recently in 2014, Infinity Tower is the tallest building in Brisbane, being just five metres taller than the next closest competitor, Soleil. However, it is set to lose its title sometime in 2016 when the office block at 1 William Street is completed. 1 William Street will top out at 260 metres, a full 11 metres taller than infinity. For now, Infinity is the culmination of a development cycle which has taken Brisbane from a city whose tallest structure was the town centre clock tower, to a modern civic hub boasting some of the tallest buildings in the nation.

Brisbane into the Future

During the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, construction in Brisbane underwent a pause. The much touted Vision Tower project went into receivership in 2009, and an eight story hole in the ground was left to remind Brisbanites of the economic hardships surrounding them.

However in recent years investment has accelerated at an unbelievable pace. The title of tallest building has been claimed twice since 2011, and will be claimed for a third time in 2016. Nine buildings over 100 metres have been completed since 2010.

Though Brisbane already has a modern looking skyline, with some fifty or so buildings over 100 metres, it is set to become host to some truly mammoth projects over the coming years. The second half of the 2010s will see the completion of some 18 or so buildings over that landmark height. These buildings will use the latest technologies and local talent including formwork hire Brisbane companies. Of course, some of those proposals are yet to receive approval, but if they do they will contribute to an ever burgeoning skyline. Of the projects which have been approved, here are the most spectacular.

Brisbane Skytower


Currently under construction, the Brisbane Skytower project, otherwise known as 111+222, is being built upon the original site of the Vision Tower project, which as we mentioned before was cancelled thanks to the Global Financial Crisis. 111+222 will finally fill the eight story hole left by the Vision Tower’s foundations. At 270 metres, the Brisbane Skytower will be the tallest building in Brisbane and will take the title from the next entry on this list which itself has not even been completed yet!

1 William Street

Already half finished, and set to top out sometime in 2016, 1 William Street will become the tallest building in Brisbane, at least until Brisbane Skytower is completed. Consisting of office blocks, 1 William Street will become the hub of the state government, housing public servants previously located in multiple offices along Queen’s wharf. Located right on the riverside the building will dominated the view of the CBD from South Bank, looming over the Riverside Expressway. The project received opposition from some groups who considered it a waste of taxpayers’ money, but its construction has proceeded regardless.


These aren’t the only projects on the tables for Brisbane’s future. One which has not yet gained approval, but which is looking increasingly likely to be constructed, is located at 30 Albert Street. If given the go ahead, this particular skyscraper will top out a massive 274 metres: the maximum current height allowed by Brisbane city’s building codes. If these codes remain unchanged in the future then 30 Albert Street may do what other buildings before it have not and remain, at the very least, equal tallest in Brisbane: as future buildings will simply not be allowed to surpass it.

But whatever building eventually manages to capture the title of Brisbane’s tallest, the future looks bright for the development of this humble riverside town. In just fifty years the city of Brisbane has undergone incredible change to its way of life and its atmosphere. From the earliest Victorian era architecture that lined the streets in the early 20th century, to the oppressive days of pre-Fitzgerald Enquiry corruption and into the staggering progress of the 21st century: Brisbane is set to continue on its path of rapid development. How dense its skyline will become is yet to be seen, but the future is no doubt exciting.

To find out more about the construction industry, as well as to discover how formwork hire and other construction related services are helping to build our city of Brisbane, moving forward, visit the UniSpan website.


Peter Cutforth is a Director at Urban E-Learning, a global elearning and web strategy firm based in George St Brisbane. Peter's interests extend to training, safety and compliance, online marketing, and Mobile Apps.

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