The Princess Precinct
Cathy Schusler

The Princess Precinct

REFRESH*DESIGN Studio for Architecture como Arquitetos

The ‘Princess Row’ is a rare surviving example of terrace houses constructed in the 1860s along the re-development of Petrie Terrace. While one of the four terrace houses had been transformed into a corner shop in 1929, those remaining were mostly unchanged from their original condition and form, however, severely dilapidated.

Acquiring the terraces some time ago, the current owner envisioned establishing a hub in this upcoming area. Pursuing this, his first step was to transform the corner shop into a stylish café. With some empty land behind the existing building, the client briefed REFRESH* to develop a strategy for staged development. Stage one was to transform the three existing residences into commercial tenancies, stage two to add three new townhouses behind.

Located in one of Brisbane’s oldest suburbs, the three-storey masonry terraces are listed as local heritage with the Brisbane City Council. Petrie Terrace itself is a major road in the suburb, so turning the residences into contemporary commercial tenancies seems logical, however, besides the common design requirements, this brought about some major challenges.

The existing staircases did not meet the relevant building codes hence the terraces were not fit for the intended (and existing) purpose, however, replacing them was in breach with the heritage protection. Similarly, converting from residential to commercial use revealed several issues with fire safety and existing floors not being strong enough for increased loads. Close collaboration with specialist consultants including certifier, heritage architect, structural engineer, fire engineer and access consultant enabled R* to achieve performance solutions to overcome all of these hurdles.

With consideration of the Burra Charter and the change in use of the building, R*’s intent was to create spaces that communicate to the street, while at the same time providing privacy for the tenants. Peeling back all layers that had been added to the veranda, and adding a structurally glazed façade with a medium dark tint achieved this. Together with lifestyle graphics this minimalist façade provides privacy to the inside of the tenancies during the day, but offers exposure in the evening when the lights are turned on. The design joins all front yards to one communal space and includes benches and tables to encourage social interaction of the tenants and the local community.

Interventions with the heritage building have been kept to a minimum and only where necessary, the aim was for the new elements to be subtle and to compliment the existing. Where new elements like stairs, beams or doorways were inserted, the formal language acknowledges the difference between historic and contemporary fabric. Although rich in patina, the nearly 160 years old face brick walls, polished timber floors and VJ boards bond with the contemporary materials like metal and glass to achieve a harmonious balanced atmosphere.

The Princess Precinct is very well received and is fully tenanted. Front yards have lead to cross-pollination between all tenants including the existing café.

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