Memories of a City in the Sun

petit bourgeoisbelonging to the lower middle social class, or having the characteristics that are considered typical of this class, such as thinking money and possessions are more important than other things, and not trusting new or different ideas. Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

The University of Queensland has had many social scientists who have made an impact but perhaps none quite as much as architect Stephen Trotter who designed buildings that became listed as as part of Brisbane’s heritage. These buildings included the Tower Mill motel on Wickham Terrace, the site of the anti-apartheid demonstrations in 1971. These protests an all-white touring South African rugby team were savagely put down by the Queensland Government declaring a state of emergency that encouraged country police to bash up protestors putting several in hospital. A neo-fascist in the crowd sparked the police charge by throwing a brick into the plate glass windows of the Tower Mill motel. It is believed that he was put up to it by the head of Special Branch.

The ensuing police riot gave rise to a vote for a mass strike at the University of Queensland. The university administration led by Vice-Chancellor Zelman Cowen tried a softly softly approach expelling a few radicals and planting special branch spies among the rest. Zelman Cowen worked in closely with Police Commission Whitrod to shut down the anti-apartheid strike and anti-war movement still in full flight.

Interestingly some of Stephen Trotter’s most innovative designs did not gain the heritage status of the Tower Mill motel. Buildings like the Schonell Theatre and the UQ Union complex were not to join the iconic Astor House or the Tower Mill, itself a symbol of colonial brutality against convict and black alike. Why? Was it because the liberal establishment, and the petite-bourgeois they represent, bowed to the racist conservatism of a colonial outpost of not one but two failing empires?

Brisbane has always had a small middle class because there was never much of a manufacturing industry in the Sunshine State. Weakness of the middle class in the face of rampant land speculation, exploitation of aboriginal country and the ecological catastrophe of mining was, at times, put on show outside the buildings Trotter designed. People revolted when Joh brought down the Bellevue, Cloudland and other iconic buildings.

Trotter may not have expected such an outcome because he undoubtedly shared some of the values and ideas of his class. For example he had an anglo-centric view of the working class in Queensland – “the basic labour force consists of people of Northern European derivation“. This is simply not true, either in his day, before or since. Queensland workers included aboriginal people (pastoral and domestic workers), Torres Strait islanders (railways and fishing), Italian and Spanish (sugar and fishing industries), Chinese (market gardens and mining) and many more.

Trotter claims: “The problems posed by the climate have largely been solved in the agricultural, pastoral and mining industries by the use of mechanisation on a large scale.” I don’t think so. Vast land clearing using giant chains strung between bulldosers by the soon-to be Premier left untold destruction in his wake.

He said: “The problems associated with building to provide the most acceptable living and working conditions here have not yet been satisfactorily solved.” I wonder what Trotter thought about the Queenslander with its wide verandahs, did he think that design suitable for the tropical climate?

Strangely I can find no reference to Stephen Trotter’s Cities of the Sun in reports prepared by Heritage, Department of Environment and Science when considering the heritage listing of the UQU Complex. The Schonell Theatre Heritage recommendation was overturned thus reducing the possibility of the building being saved. There is certainly no mention of the A.R.A.I.A. scholarship that Trotter received in 1963 to research possible designs for the UQU complex nor of any letters to his wife concerning his ideas for his fresh approach. Surely these documents are evidence of the aesthetic and unique practical value of these buildings, All I can see in the report by Heritage, Department of Environment and Science is the oft repeated line that ‘The Complex has undergone extensive changes. But is this even true?

The commission ignored submissions about the heritage value of the forum area entirely, despite a submission from the UQ administration that it should be recognised, probably by a small plaque in a corner somewhere out of the way.

Ian Curr,
15 Feb 2021.


CITIES IN THE SUN by Stephen E. Trotter (1963)


It is true that we come to each experience with our own limitations and see only that for which we are prepared. But the reflection we see is not just ourselves it is the passage of man. ” – Isamu Noguchi

Cities in the Sun was first published in 1963

I was born in “A City in the Sun“. I was brought up and received my education here in the sub-tropics. I understand the comfort of a building well designed for the climate and the sheer hell of a badly designed one. I undertook this survey in an attempt to understand more fully the forces which have resulted in good tropical 6uildings and cities in other parts of the world, and to actually feel these in their countries’ hottest periods.

Northern Australia is the only tropical and sub-tropical land mass where the basic labour force consists of people of Northern European derivation. The problems posed by the climate have largely been solved in the agricultural, pastoral and mining industries by the use of mechanisation on a large scale. The problems associated with building to provide the most acceptable living and working conditions here have not yet been satisfactorily solved.

Unlike other countries in similar zones, we do not have centuries of evolution and understanding as a background to our building philosophy. As well as seeking technical solutions to building in this environment we have also to provide emotional solution The latter are the hardest to achieve.

During brief periods in our history forces have operated which have led to the development of satisfactory forms. Due to internal pressures largely caused by a lack of national self-confidence, these forces have degenerated to the copying of fashionable but entirely climatically unsuitable Northern European prototypes.

UQ Union complex view from Great Court

The purpose of this report described from my diary my observations as they occurred and to illustrate, as adequately as photographs and sketches will allow, typical buildings of the cities visited. This reproduced report is taken from my original, more comprehensive document submitted to the Royal Australian Institute of Architects. For the sake of clarity I have divided the text into sections: firstly, HOT, DRY and secondly, HOT, HUMID. The descriptions will overlap to some extent due to the large temperature and humidity contrasts in some of the cities described.

It has not been my intention to analyse in detail individual buildings but rather to investigate the patterns of suitability and the historic forces which produced these patterns.

Stephen E Trotter

Note:- St Regis – A.C.I Pty, provides $2,00 annually as a scholarship for an Australian architect to travel and study the practice of architecture and the building industry. This particular report is produced by Stephen E Trotter A.R.A.I.A, the winner of the 1963 scholarship and documents Stephen’s travels to “Cities in the Sun.” The report documents his observations, illustrations and photographs of his travels in his attempt to better “understand more fully the forces which resulted in good tropical buildings and cities in other parts of the world, and to actually feel these in their con tries hottest periods.” (Stephen E Trotter, Cities in the Sun)