Conrad Gargett, a leading design practice with expertise in built heritage conservation having completed the restoration, refurbishment and repurposing of some of the country’s most significant historic buildings, was privileged to present Brisbane’s Customs House, as part of the National Trust of Australia’s Australian Heritage Festival 2019. Conrad Gargett Director John Flynn, Principal David Gole and Manager of Heritage Advocacy for the National Trust of Australia (Queensland) Jane Alexander presented at Customs House, Queen Street, Brisbane, Queensland.
Brisbane’s Customs House, listed on the Queensland Heritage Register and the Register of the National Estate, celebrates 130 years this year (1889 – 2019). Opened in 1889, Customs House was the result of a competition within the Colonial Architect’s Office, with the design attributed to Charles McLay. Conrad Gargett’s first partnership, Henry Wallace Atkinson and Charles McLay, was formed in 1907. So Conrad Gargett has a legacy connection to this place through McLay, explained Gole. Both Architects were colleagues in the Colonial Architect’s Office.
Owner and operator of Customs House, The University of Queensland, celebrates and reflects on a 25 year milestone since renovations and reconstruction were completed in 1994. Since that time, Conrad Gargett has contributed to the building’s ongoing conservation and adaptive repurposing of its spaces, such as The River Room and Patina restaurant. The iconic riverfront building has been transformed into a premier restaurant, functions and major cultural facility – an asset for The University of Queensland as part of their sandstone building brand, and for the city of Brisbane.
David Gole, Heritage Architect leading Conrad Gargett’s Heritage Team, said, “Customs House is a much valued cultural icon for Brisbane. Since 1993 I have been privileged to work on this wonderful building.” Gole detailed Customs House’s significance:
Customs House was in use by the Australian Customs Service for nearly 100 years. Historically it is significant as an expression of the importance of the customs service to Queensland and to Australia and for its site, which relates to the establishment of Brisbane as a port of entry;
The building is important as representing its type as late 19th century masonry customs houses. It is important for its aesthetic significance as a well-proportioned and skillfully-designed Victorian building executed to take best advantage of its dominant site and solve the practical problems of dual access from the town and from the river;
This place is a landmark for the Brisbane community, and part of the suite of Australian customs houses.
Gole stated, “Brisbane’s Customs House is not a museum piece. Rather it is a living and functioning building, and continues to evolve and engage with a broad range of users within our community.” “The University of Queensland continue to deliver a commercially-viable sustainable business model to maintain Brisbane’s Customs House. Currently the place is cash positive. It is a commercial success, as it generates an income that contributes to the maintenance budget and investment in future capital works.” “The future and ongoing legacy of this special Brisbane icon is bright.”
Jane Alexander highlighted that community sentiment has improved over the years in relation to there being a greater appreciation for our heritage assets in Australia. Alexander resides on the Australia ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) Executive Committee, an organisation that leads cultural heritage conservation in Australia.
Conrad Gargett understand the importance of a place’s value and meaning – the legacy narratives, cultural value and unique physical elements, and applies a respectful approach when preserving, restoring, and repurposing historical buildings, in Australia and offshore. In partnership with clients and stakeholders, the practice develops a clear vision of the heritage objectives and principles informing both the conservation and new design, an approach which follows international best practice conservation philosophy and process to ensure lasting positive conservation and design outcomes. Conrad Gargett understands the delicate balance between conserving original design elements to retain the heritage values of a place, while incorporating the appropriate elements to revitalise the building and meet contemporary needs. This considered approach ensures heritage buildings are compliant, serve new uses and generate revenue, while retaining their significance – creating meaningful places for people.