Post flood “Queenslander” by Michael Rayner

Post flood “Queenslander” by Michael Rayner

From: The Australian   /   January 22, 2011  /  Andrew Fraser

No-one has done more to promote Brisbane as the “River City” than award-winning architect Michael Rayner, so it was improbably cruel that his own home flooded when the river erupted.

Last week, as he continued to clean up his damaged West End property, and the Queensland capital came to terms with the magnitude of the flood disaster that struck on January 13-14, Mr Rayner turned his mind to how people should live with the destructive power of the river.


His answer is to take the best of the classic Queenslander design – hoisted on stilts that push through to the roofline – and bind it with contemporary bling to accommodate Brisbane’s sub-tropical climate and lifestyle, as well as the demand on space in the booming metropolis.

“The ground floor is really for laundry, storage, parking and underhouse family space, much as it was in the traditional Queenslander,” Mr Rayner explained, after coming up with a design exclusively for The Weekend Australian. “(Because it is) built of robust materials this level can be readily cleaned down after flooding.”

Michael Rayner has been a driving force in Brisbane’s transformation from a sleepy provincial backwater built around its coffee-coloured river to the happening state capital of today that is home to two-million-plus people, and growing faster than any other city. Mr Rayner’s hand is evident in the “new” Brisbane: an early proponent of the “River City” blueprint, he oversaw the design of the Goodwill and Kurilpa pedestrian bridges spanning the river’s CBD frontage, and many of the public buildings nearby.

He believes passionately in “letting the outside in” despite the disastrous turn of events along the Brisbane River. His vision of the “new Queenslander” builds on the basic design principles of that iconic home style, but applies them vertically, rather than horizontally.

The three-bedroom, two-bathroom, two-car-space house would be up to 11m high, 2.5m higher than the current height limit set by Brisbane City Council. At a cost of about $550,000, it would cost marginally more than a typical Queenslander rebuilt with new materials, due to the third level requiring additional vertical circulation.

The home sits on stilts, of course, to keep the living areas clear on flooding. By going up instead of across, it is also cooler. Air can circulate beneath the first floor, and the upper stories are better placed to catch cooling breezes in Brisbane’s hot, humid summer.

Development pressure in Brisbane meant unused space beneath the house was a luxury few could afford. Mr Rayner would build instead across three raised levels.

The middle level was the main living level with a kitchen and living area and a veranda outside, although it could be opened to a kind of continuous veranda.

“The upper level comprises up to three bedrooms and study, also configured for cross-ventilation. This is the level you’d hope would clear the floods and can be used to store all furniture and belongings that might otherwise be trapped.”

Mr Rayner’s own home, by the river in inner West End, incorporated many of these features.

Ten nights ago, after the river burst its banks, he sat on the footpath opposite his house and watched the flood invade storage area on the bottom floor. Water covered floorboards on the first level, coating them with mud, before retreating.

“I actually wanted to watch it just to see how the house worked under these conditions,” he said.

“Because we had that top storey we got 90 per cent of our stuff out and up there. There’s limits to this sort of design: if the floods keep on coming and into the top floor there’s nowhere to go, but presumably if it ever got to that stage everyone is evacuated and a lot of the city would be underwater.”

On the whole, he believed his house held up fairly well in the floods: but one lesson learnt would be to make the building more open, so that if it flooded, the water could flow through it and out the other side easily.

Mr Rayner’s work is increasingly defining Brisbane’s look. His firm Cox Rayner designed a new high-rise tower beside the Brisbane River at 111 Eagle Street, and he designed the most recent two footbridges across the Brisbane River near the CBD, the Kurilpa Bridge and Goodwill Bridge.

He admits there has been “a relaxation of attitudes” towards the possibility of flooding in Brisbane. But with the clean-up happening in his own house reflecting the broader clean-up throughout Brisbane, he sees the flood providing an opportunity for new types of buildings and landscapes.

“It could be a new model of the old Queenslander, something good coming out of the floods,” he said.

About Michael Rayner

Michael graduated from University of NSW in 1980 with First Class Honours in Architecture and the Thiess Award Medal.

He worked with Philip Cox in Sydney until 1990 when he opened Cox Rayner Architects in Brisbane.

The practice has undertaken several major public buildings across Queensland including the Kurilpa Bridge, Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, Brisbane Magistrates Court, the Museum of Tropical Queensland Townsville, Thuringowa Riverway Townsville and Cairns Convention Centre. International works include the Helix Bridge in Singapore.

Michael is focussed upon linking the Sciences with Design and Engineering, sustainable growth precincts and knowledge precinct networks

Kurilpa Bridge, the world’s largest tensegrity bridge. Designed by Cox Rayner Architects with Arup, the $ 75 million pedestrian and cycle bridge connects Brisbane’s Central Business District with the city’s South Bank and its major cultural precinct.

Michael Rayner is a passionate advocate for environmentally sustainable cities and was a keynote speaker on the subject at the International Earth Dialogues Forum in 2006.

Michael is also a noted advocate for the Arts in Queensland, especially with respect to enabling artists to work in the public realm.

He is a Member of the Queensland Government’s Smart State Council, Board for Urban Place, Queensland Design Council and Brisbane City Council’s Urban Futures Board.

His appointments and achievements include:

Urban Futures Brisbane Board since 2009 (Brisbane City Council)

Smart State Council since 2005 (Queensland Government)

Creative Industries Leadership Group since 2004 (Queensland Government)

Urban Design Advisory Panel since 2001 (Brisbane City Council)

Independent Design Advisory Panel since 2001 (Brisbane City Council)

Adjunct Professor in Architecture University of Queensland since 2000

Australian Business Arts Foundation Councillor since 1997

National Innovation System: Innovation in the Public Sector 2008

Australian Government ‘Ideas Summit 2020’ Participant 2008

International Juror Hong Kong Institute of Architects Awards 2002

RAIA Queensland Chapter President 2000-02

Construction Queensland Board 1999-02 (Queensland Government)

Designing Environments Policy Committee 1997 (Queensland Government)

Arts Accommodation Taskforce 1996 (Queensland Government)

RAIA Queensland Planning and Environment Committee (Chairman) 1992 – 1994

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