Co-founders of developer Bluebird, Claire O’Rourke and Riye Arai-Coupe

A proposed riverside apartment dwelling in Brisbane’s upmarket Highgate Hill will embrace biophilic design to blend the exterior with a neighbouring community garden, with the hope of garnering community and council approval for the sustainability-driven project.

However, the proposal for 5 Dudley Street is not without controversy. Locals say replacing the existing block of 14 one-bedroom apartments with eight higher-priced dwellings will make the suburb even less accessible to renters. 

A partnership between Queensland development firm, Bluebird and the longtime landowners, is depending on a vision of “environmentally sensitive design” to carry the project through to completion. 

The proposed development at 5 Dudley Street, Highgate Hill

Bluebird was founded in 2018 by managing partners Riye Arai-Coupe and Claire O’Rourke with a focus on “positive social, economic and environmental outcomes in the built environment”.

“Our vision for this development is to deliver a high-quality boutique residential building that embodies the community’s values and reflects the diverse architectural character of Highgate Hill,” Ms Arai-Coupe said.

Both women have extensive experience working for major development firms including Mirvac and Lendlease and Barratt London.

They say that the existing apartment building at 5 Dudley street was damaged during the 2011 Brisbane floods, contributing to a state of decline that made it unsuitable for refurbishment.

Ellivo senior architect Alana Muir

Senior architect on the project Alana Muir from project firm Ellivo told The Fifth Estate that the new development had been designed to be “well above the post-2010 minimum flood immunity levels”.

As well as council regulations and social concerns, Ms Muir said the design had to contend with the standards of the local community, which consisted of many engaged members, as well as several high-profile architects.

“There are a lot of people that are really passionate about the area, they either want to protect it from change, or some of them are keen to see change,” Ms Muir said. 

Brisbane City greens councillor Jonathan Sri said the development will displace lower-income renters and doesn’t comply with the existing code limits.

In a social media post, Mr Sri questioned the plan to “demolish an existing three-storey block of 14 cheapish single-bedroom apartments and replace them with a much bulkier four to five-storey apartment block consisting of eight high-end, high-cost three-bedroom apartments.”

Other local residents were concerned that the neighbouring park, which has become a hub for riverside leisure activities, will be negatively impacted by the presence of eight new luxury apartments. 

Biophilic design

To help encourage community support the developers have focused on biophilic design, hoping to blend the building seamlessly into its surroundings.

“What we’ve tried to do is set it back from the street quite a lot so you kind of feel like it’s an extension of the park,” Ms Muir said. 

“We’ve also tried, where it bounds the park, to cut courtyard holes into the building so it feels like that greenery and openness is coming up into the building rather than having solid walls.” 

The roof of the building will be heavily landscaped to act as a private open space for residents and capitalise on the views of the river, however, this too comes with challenges. 

Brisbane City Council regulations restrict using mains water supply for the irrigation of buildings. Instead water will primarily be captured and stored on site, except during periods of drought, when Ms Muir said water may need to be trucked in to fill the onsite tanks. 

“Council wants a lot of these living greenery initiatives and I think the general population does too, but the balance can be quite tricky,” Ms Muir said. 

“It’s really hard when you’ve got such a small footprint to capture enough water for all the plants.” 

The proposed project is for a fully electricfied building to eliminate the use of gas and for it to be at least partially powered by rooftop solar feeding into an embedded network. 

Ms Muir said that while official energy rating targets were yet to be finalised, her firm had worked with sustainability consultants Ecolateral to achieve a balance between energy efficiency and connection with outside. 

“It’s a fine balance, with biophilic design. Of course we want to have a lot of glass. Problem is when you have a lot of glass it’s not a very thermal outcome in terms of the energy calculations. So that’s one challenge that we’ve had to deal with,” Ms Muir said. 

“Unfortunately, our site faces east west along the long side, so that’s probably one of the worst orientations you can have.”

The use of high performance glass, and enclosing screening on the western facade to reduce the impact of Brisbane’s formidable sun have helped to improve energy efficiency while capitalising on creating open vistas where possible. 

Ms Arai-Coupe said her company was determined to achieve a positive outcome for the community and the development which she says will become “a leading example for sustainable design in Brisbane.

“Last year we commenced extensive community engagement to drive better outcomes at a neighbourhood level, to ensure the building’s design and scale reflects and integrates with its surroundings,” she said. 

“This is fundamental to our values and will continue throughout this next stage of the planning process.”