Cox Architects opposes the destruction of the heritage listed Karl Langer Gardens, Spring Hill, Brisbane

We write to you about a matter of principle and public interest, which affects the basis on which distinctive architecture is recognised and maintained into the future.

The following paragraphs outline the history of Karl and Gertrude Langer and their contribution to architecture and the art scene within Brisbane.

The Brisbane City Council and the State Department of Environment and Heritage have completely failed in their duty of care to protect the legacy of the design of the MRD building and gardens designed by Carl Langer and built in the 1960s. The history of this building and the contribution of the gardens in the context of the overall design has been ignored by the planning authorities because a development approval has been granted which will destroy these gardens and impact severely on the amenity and setting of the MRD building (now named “The Johnson”).

History of Karl and Gertrude Langer

Karl Langer and his wife Gertrude Langer moved to Brisbane just prior to the Second World War and both made significant long-term contributions to the Brisbane and Queensland community. He made significant contributions as both planner and architect and she was highly influential in the arts community. Both embraced the broad futurist thinking of the Bauhaus and just recently both featured in an exhibition at the Museum of Brisbane [Brisbane City Hall] recognising the cultural benefits to the Brisbane community arising from the works and ideas of the Bauhaus in Brisbane.

Karl Langer made significant contributions in recognising the need to connect design with climate and landscape and his commission to design the MRD site in Spring Hill was one of his largest projects. (See photograph No 1) There he sought to countenance a modernism [with its connotations of technology and functionality] and meld these with respect for people, nature and work as part of a holistic design fabric. The integration of the building at Spring Hill with substantial areas of garden were fundamental to his concept – providing workers and visitors with the opportunity to connect and reflect in the Langer Gardens. (See photograph No 2).

Many people misinterpret the principles of the ‘Bauhaus’ teachings to be nothing more than a ‘style’ of architecture. That is quite wrong. In fact, the opposite is true because if the dominant influence of the design of a building was ‘style’ then the building would not be true to the ‘Bauhaus’ teachings. The teachings, in brief, elevated the importance of function and simplicity above that of aesthetics. (Refer attached photo and text No 3). Consequently, the integration of landscape with architecture was more important than simply a matter of aesthetics as described above.

There has been widespread recognition of the Langer’s work within the arts and the built environment ‘industry’ including but limited to the following:

  • The heritage listings of MRD building and gardens.
  • The Karl Langer Award presented to a fourth-year Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Bachelor of Design (Landscape Architecture) student.
  • The University of Queensland, Langer Memorial Committee formed in 1985 to establish a memorial for Karl and Gertrude Langer (a bronze-cast portrait head of Gertrude Langer and a garden seat) in the University of Queensland gardens.
  • A Karl and Gertrude Langer Trust to provide prizes to students in the fields of Art and Architecture.
  • The Karl & Gertrude Langer Memorial Drawing Prize is awarded to a student enrolled in the Bachelor of Architectural Design or Master of Architecture for the best architectural drawing.

The Character and Integrity of the MRD Building and Gardens is Under Threat

In recent years, the old Main Roads Building has been re-purposed to include a hotel, residential apartments and some commercial premises described as the ‘The Johnson’. The Langer Gardens to the West of the existing building was separated from the body corporate development and assiduously ‘let go’. In doing so there is almost no obvious sense of care or respect for the gardens other than that the magnificent trees are temporarily still there as testimony to a previous glimpse of human connection with place.

The history and connection of the existing gardens to its surroundings and the integrity of its design of the whole of the heritage site is to be extinguished entirely by the total demolition of the gardens. It is planned to be replaced by a high-density high-rise block of rooms for ‘rooming accommodation’ similar to small apartments. In doing so the site is now envisaged to change from heritage listed gardens to a site suitable for high rise residential development.

It is also contended that the proposed development is an example of over development of a site which adversely affects the neighbouring properties and beyond. An example of this is seen in the attached video taken from ‘The Johnson’ to the east of the subject site.

(Refer to the link as follows: https://youtu.be/w0TI5njHmt0 )

It Is Necessary to Appeal this Decision by the Council.

Some 75 objections were lodged by Spring Hill residents, industry associations and locals. However, despite the existing heritage protections at State Government level and vegetation protection orders at BCC level, the development for multi storey student accommodation has been supported by the Brisbane City Council. Those members of the community who made submissions, relating to the development application, have the opportunity to file an appeal against the Council decision and have the matter heard as an appeal by the Planning and Environment Court. The opportunity to appeal is a short time frame and ends on 15 April 2021. If you wish to be involved in opposing this deplorable decision by the Brisbane City Council, you will need to prepare the appeal documents and file these with the Court before 15 April.

If this current decision by the Council is not overturned by the Planning and Environment Court, then it condemns the Langer’s vision from the integrated vision of the Bauhaus to the ‘outhouse’ of modern values in Brisbane in 2021. In doing so it impinges on the local natural environment and local human amenity which both the State Government and The Local Council keep on telling us they are keen to protect.

Should the reader wish to show their support for this matter, please contact urgently The President, Mr Michael Lavery, Queensland Chapter, Australian Institute of Architects or Dr. Neil Peach, Spring Hill Community Group at Email: springhillcommunity@outlook.com .

We ask for your support. It is a matter of public importance. The Council decision is fundamentally wrong and against the public interest. It is important that members of the community register their opposition to this proposed development by filing appeals with the P and E Court or making contact as above referred. You can then be a party to mediation, and if necessary, a party to the hearing of these appeals before a Judge of the P and E Court.

David Cox
Managing Director,
Cox Architects.