Dear readers,

We write to you about a matter of principle and public interest.

The following paragraphs outline the history of Carl and Gertrude Langer and their contribution to architecture and arts in Brisbane.

The Brisbane City Council and the State Department of Environment and Heritage have 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. A development approval has been granted which will destroy these gardens and impact the amenity and setting of the MRD building (now named “The Johnson”)


Karl Langer Gardens

History of Carl and Gertrude Langer

Karl Langer and his wife Gertrude moved to Brisbane just prior to the Second World War.

Both made significant contributions to Brisbane and Queensland – him as a planner and architect; her in the arts. Both embraced the broad futurist thinking of the Bauhaus. 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. 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 conception – providing workers and visitors with the opportunity to connect and reflect in the Langer Gardens. (See photograph No 2)

Many misinterpret the principles of the ‘Bauhaus’ teachings to be nothing more than a ‘style’ of architecture. That is misguided. In fact, the opposite is true. 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 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. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • 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 has been 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 demolition of the gardens will completely extinguish the history and connection of the existing gardens to its surroundings along with the integrity of the design of the whole of the heritage site. 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.

The proposed development is also an example of overdevelopment of a site which will adversely affects 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: )

Artist impression of the proposed design

Why We Must 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 residential accommodation has been supported by the Brisbane City Council. This decision left a situation where some of the public members badly affected by the proposal needed to appeal against the approval by the BCC in the Planning and Environment Court of Queensland.

That subsequently occurred.  This appeal is currently before the P and E Court. But regardless of the outcome, the events which have led to private citizens needing to financially support the appeal which are for the public benefit are troubling. Private citizens should not have to pay to protect a heritage protected garden which was originally a state and public asset. It is obviously to the public benefit that the gardens are preserved. Otherwise, they would never have been heritage protected.

The situation is further worrying because individual citizens have been forced to appeal. This would not have been necessary if the authorities who assessed the development application initially had not abrogated their duty in upholding the public rights of protection of the heritage gardens.

Further, when the State sold the premises, it required the developer to uphold the heritage protection of the Langer Gardens – which was an essential part of the heritage protection of the building and the site. Why is this heritage protection of the site ignored?

Moreover, when the new investors of the refurbished building purchased their residential or commercial lots, they did so with the assurance  at the time of the heritage protection of the building and the Langer Gardens. Now that the Langer Gardens is proposed to be destroyed, it is not surprising that they question why they have been left in this predicament.

In summary, it should be obvious why the local community, the local State Government Minister, the many objectors to the development and the owners of the current Johnson building all feel deceived by this process and situation that currently exists.

If this current decision is not overturned by the court, it condemns the Langer’s vision from the integrated vision of the Bauhaus to the ‘outhouse’ of modern values in Brisbane. In doing so, it will permit a development which will permanently impinge on the local natural environment and local amenity – both of which the State Government and the Brisbane City Council insist that they are determined to protect.

If Sir David Attenborough gets to read this article, I suggest he telephones our Prime Minister to say that the destruction of this last ‘public’ heritage listed gardens in this major street in Spring Hill will not likely have a serious threat to overall climate change but it is not a ‘good look’ for Australia especially after our much-heralded commitments at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow .

Those wishing to support this appeal should urgently contact The Manager, Queensland Chapter, Australian Institute of Architects, email address: