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What is Brisbane's Ugliest Building?

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by Geraldine Massey (subscribe)
I'm an experienced corporate communicator and editor with an eye for interesting events and an attachment to my trusty Oxford dictionary.
Published February 25th 2014
When it comes to architecture everyone's a critic. And why not? Buildings are not just utilitarian; they can profoundly affect our quality of life. In cities especially, where the uplifting beauties of nature are blotted out by large but necessary structures, there is a need for beautiful architecture. But what is beautiful architecture?

We're all familiar with the "'beauty is in the eye of the beholder" mantra but I like Swiss-born British philosopher, Alain de Botton's take on the architecture debate when he says that people relate well to buildings that display positive qualities like strength and intelligence, through their materials, shapes or colours. We generally prefer order and harmony.

It seems to me that there is a large element of The Emperor's New Clothes in the usual discussion of modern architecture. We are told by 'experts' who speak their own arcane languages, that an eyesore really is beautiful, but we just don't understand modern architecture. The recent Flinders Street Station Design Competition is a case in point. Compare the 2 images below and guess which vision for the iconic site was the winner.

ugly buildings, flinders street station design competition
Images from Flinders Street Station Design Competition website.


[ADVERT]The jury of "eminent architects and other experts" chose the submission on the left, stating that it "subtly relates to the existing buildings" and was "a beautiful and compelling integration of aspects of the original station design". Subtle? Integration? Really? I'd say that whatever its functional merits are, it "sticks out like a sore thumb", as my grandfather was wont to say.

Unsurprisingly the People's Choice Award went to the one on the right. It was ranked first in all the voting categories because of its concentration on green spaces and its integration with the station's cultural heritage and the surrounding urban precinct. Now I'm not saying that the original station buildings are beautiful because they're old, or that the People's Choice would work in a real world application. Neither am I saying that all modern architecture is bad. But a lot of it is graceless at best and downright repulsive at its worst.

Which brings us to Brisbane. Brisbane is blessed with some lovely heritage architecture and some interesting modern buildings, but there are many that ruffle feathers and ignite debate. The Brisbane Square home of Brisbane City Council comes in for its fair share of criticism for its punches of bright colour amongst the largely grey surroundings. Kurilpa Bridge has attracted tags such as "pickup sticks" and "oversized knitting needles", despite being judged the World Transport Building of the Year in 2011. The Upper Mt Gravatt headquarters of the Australian Tax Office are a testament to the concrete "edifice complex", and Brisbane Transit Centre and the buildings of QUT's Gardens Point Campus usually cop a fair amount of flak.

brisbane square, brisbane city council, ugly buildings brisbane
A punch of colour in the otherwise sombre cityscape


Some of my candidates for Brisbane's Ugliest Building follow, but what about you? Please let us know what Brisbane structure gets your vote as the city's biggest architecture failure?

Clem 7 Southern Ventilation Outlet and Northern Ventiltion Outlet

clem 7 ventilation outlet, brisbane ugly buildings
Clem 7 Southern Ventilation Outlet. An egregious eyesore or an attractive icon? Image courtesy of Thom Ryan from www.vello.hellobrisbane.net/jacaranda-ride.


This elephant may not be in the room but it looms large and, dare I say, ugly at the southern end of the Clem 7 tunnel. It's supposed to reference Brisbane's glorious jacaranda trees, while its northern counterpart is said to highlight the red, spreading poinciana trees. I beg to differ. What say you?

Indooroopilly Railway Station

indooroopilly train station, ugly buildings brisbane
As if peak hour commuting isn't bad enough without having to contend with this.


A carnival, seaside paint job seems somewhat out of place at a train station in Brisbane's western suburbs. It is.

Lady Cilento Children's Hospital

ugly buildings brisbane, lady cilento childrens hospital, brisbane children's hospital
The Lady Cilento Children's Hospital under construction in 2013. Image by Kgbo from Wikimedia Commons.


This is due to be completed later in 2014 but is already showing signs of being a monstrosity-in-the-making.
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Why has no one mentioned the horrific King George Square. Was in there last week when it was very hot. The glare from the grey asphalt tiles was horrendous. When are they going to out back the grass and trees as befits a tropical climate.
by Suzan (score: 0|8) 2702 days ago
With all these new office and apartment buildings going up with a life span of what, 50 to 60 years? Where are the green buildings in Brisbane to meet future environmental and economic realities. These new buildings are making developers rich and the city poorer for not having foresight. Not to mention how many new ugly buildings are being built, they look cheap and nasty from the gecko...I look at them and envisage slums of the future.

My two question are...Has Brisbane missed a golden opportunity to transform into a world leading environmental architectural city?
Sydney has the harbour and character, Melbourne has everything minus the harbour and good weather...How can we compete, Brisbane has what?
by messa (score: 0|4) 2703 days ago
I particularly hate the old Telstra exchange building at Kangaroo Point, and now it's pretty much abandoned it looks even worse. Barely any windows, dirty concrete. No character.
by Julian Groneberg (score: 3|1806) 2689 days ago
The Northern and Southern Ventilation Outlets get my vote for ugliest buildings and they look unfinished as well. Knowing what they are supposed to represent does not make them any more appealing. The best thing they could do would be to demolish them and start again.
by jillr (score: 1|17) 2698 days ago
Most of the QUT city campus buildings are ugly blots on the skyline. Only blocks, no curves, nothing unusual, an industrial landscape beside that magnificent park and the gems of old and new parliament houses.
by chris (score: 0|2) 2705 days ago
Clem 7 Southern Ventilation Outlet and Northern Ventiltion Outlet
by minty (score: 0|2) 2703 days ago
Brisbane Transit Centre. No contest.
by Roscoe (score: 1|11) 2704 days ago
The Parliamentary Annexe which towers inappropriately over the Parliamentary and Gardens precinct
by spran (score: 0|2) 2707 days ago
I just have to agree about that purple unfinished looking ventilation building, and my daughter was at school when they were asked to contribute to the station art at Indro - they had no imput into how it was designed, and the result - well horrendous - she could have done a better job by herself. they should have let the students have free reign.
by lemis (score: 0|6) 2705 days ago
The church on the corner of Central Avenue and Ward St Indooroopilly. It looks like a kennel, and the mould, water stains, discolouration and bubbling concrete complete the nightmare. The walls seem to have been painted with concrete coloured paint. There's a weird carillon thing that's ok if you like 60s freebie abstract architecture, but it's got the stained render too. The front has some eroded statues (or maybe they were sculpted that way) that look like mummies. At ground level, the featureless expanses of walls are graffiti targets, so there is a patchwork of rectangles in slightly mismatched colours where the graffiti has been covered. There's a lot of nasty infrastructure around, light poles, dump bins, rusty handrails. The doors and windows have cheap frames, and the glass is painted like deserted shops in an abandoned mall. The building would fit right in among old Communist power stations.
by trefh (score: 0|2) 2676 days ago

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