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BVN is right at home in its classic Queenslander studio, complete with open-air verandah

Taking the ‘buildings that breath’ guidelines to the natural next step, BVN has designed its new studio in Brisbane to welcome and embrace nature, while acknowledging place and connection to Country.

BVN is right at home in its classic Queenslander studio, complete with open-air verandah

This project feature originally appeared in INDESIGN #88, the ‘Education Outlook’ issue – get your copy here.

Designed by BVN in 2012 as the exemplar for Brisbane City Council’s ‘Buildings that Breath’ guidelines, the Annex is the smaller building adjacent Brisbane’s blue tower. “In Brisbane, the idea of how to make a south-east Queensland building has become more deliberate in planning terms,” says BVN principal, Brian Donovan. “So, how do you make a commercial building with the capacity to engage with the outdoor in terms of natural ventilation or elevated gardens or permeable underbellies.”

As such, the Annex includes what Donovan describes as a “ventilating facade,” an open and street-oriented design – not dissimilar to that of a traditional Queenslander’s latticed verandah that allows the building to be part of the public domain. Rooftop landscaping further weds the Annex to the large and heritage-listed fig tree. Meanwhile, the tree is further celebrated within: “The fig is central in the composition of both the Annex building and our Annex studio, where the idea of the fig is drawn into the interior as an extension of the landscape,” says Donovan.

BVN - Buildings that Breath

Electing to move the studio to the Annex, BVN amplified the innate quality of the building: “We increased the window openings, and installed a hybrid mixed mode system to the verandah’s. When the weather is fine, we have everything open; when it’s not, we close it down and use the air-conditioning,” explains Donovan.

Additionally, the internal perimeter is as open as possible to fully optimise the glazing. Upper and lower glass panels associated with the ventilating windows are tinted gold and cast a golden hue into the interior. As such, they reference the coloured glass that is part of the history of Queensland buildings: “In classic examples you find it might be blue or green or golden themes of quite beautiful coloured glass. So that was the intent here, to have an association with the traditional architecture of these verandah spaces,” says Donovan.  

Designed specifically to facilitate physical engagement, the allocation of site-specific function mimics a cityscape where people travel to perform particular activities. As such, public and private spaces of the city are reflected in the layout of the office with defined avenues of connection.

“If you think about it as though it were a city, the organisation of streets is such that you have destinations, and everybody has to travel to the one kitchen, to the single model shop or samples library, or to larger meeting rooms. As you move to those places, you’re exposed to the activity of the office. And then everybody overlaps and interacts and learns from each other,” says Donovan.

Related: Employee ownership with Make Architects

BVN - Buildings that Breath

An intermittently transparent ‘miniature building’ running along an edge adds further opportunity for chance encounter and collaboration, in that circulation takes place on either side, but no one is hidden. To one side the configuration is an open studio model with areas housing a pin-up ‘white wall’, twin screens (for digital modelling) and open places for group collaboration. On the other, the spaces are more private with specific hybrid meeting and technology rooms.

Throughout, the movement of individuals is fully transparent. As Donovan points out, it is the high levels of technology an office offers that allows people to work remotely, but it is physical interaction that fosters the ad hoc engagement that the office design prioritises.

BVN - Buildings that Breath

BVN is “committed to understanding the way we can engage and learn from First Nations histories and futures,” explains Donovan. As such, the inception point for all BVN projects is research into multiple spheres of influence, starting with Indigenous history, in addition to colonial and multicultural history and how all can coalesce as a potent ’future focused’ project.

“The idea of being in Country first of all starts with the study of this locale, what the significant connections to, and associations with, Country are and then how a First Nations person, and ideally all of us, might engage with Country,” notes Donovan, in relation to the way all aspects of nature from weather to water, plants and land are incorporated in meaning.

BVN - Buildings that Breath

Abstracting these ideas into a physical experience, the interior leverages the idea of what it is to be ‘of this place’. Starting with the ground plane, the honed concrete floor at the arrival exposes local stones as a reminder to all that we are on Country: “We’ve made a piece of ground, which is made from materials of this place. They’re not exotic pebbles from North Queensland or Adelaide, or India, or America – the emphasis is on this place,” says Donovan. Extending the metaphor further, the seating at 400mm and bench at 700mm use this material to embody the idea of a folded piece of terrain: “We then sit and occupy – sort of a nice way of thinking about landscape and territories.”

BVN - Buildings that Breath

The neutral palette of the local stones and concrete is extended throughout with swathes of raw concrete concisely expressing the nature of a modern architectural practice. This in turn is softened by extensive plantings that fully bring the tree into the office. In this public space the Queenslander veranda is given a nod with cane chairs and simple white furniture. That said, the light being constantly golden transforms the white to a warm golden glow, while deepening the gold of the cane.

Bathed in the golden light of Queensland, gazing into the canopy of a fig and standing on Country, this most assuredly is a considered and careful testament to being of this place.

Find out more about INDESIGN #88 and susbcribe here!


Christopher Frederick Jones

BVN - Buildings that Breath

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