Those of you who are graduates of UQ may be aware that elections are currently underway for the UQ Senate, the university’s governing body. Graduates have an opportunity to elect their own representatives. If you intend casting a vote I ask you to consider voting for Lee Duffield. Lee has been a stalwart of our campaign to prevent the demolition of the UQ Union Complex. He has leafletted, written media releases, attended every event we have organised and, at our site tour, spoken passionately about the Big March for civil liberties in 1967. He made a submission to the Queensland Heritage Council in support of our application to have the site added to the heritage register. Last week Lee and I attended an event showcasing the work of architecture students who have spent the semester in a master class with architect Don Watson, developing plans for the adaptive re-use of the Union Complex. Lee’s response to their work is reproduced below.
If Lee were elected he would be an important voice for us. He is battling a crowded field of candidates for the three graduate spots up for grabs. Every vote will count.
Save the UQ Union Complex
Advanced level architecture students at Queensland University have produced blueprints for an inspired adaptive-reuse of the ‘Union area’ at St Lucia taking in the Schonell Theatre and forum.
Their work is a positive statement of what can be done to radically modernise the complex while preserving heritage values – keeping it as a zone for independent learning and student life.
‘Save the Schonell’
When Queensland University’s grand plan for rebuilding the campus let-on two years ago that the Union area was set to be demolished, it set off a campaign to save it.
The proposal would have seen the buildings razed and replaced with a business complex and teaching areas controlled by university management — ending the seventy-years policy of keeping the area as a separate zone under student management.
That was unexpectedly shelved last June during negotiations with the protest group, management also pledging that certain key features of the precinct could be retained after all — scuttling as well the idea that opponents of the demolition project had been ‘negative’ taking it on.
This week came a positive statement from the Architecture school reflecting not only clearly thought-out values but demonstrating the power a university can generate as a repository of knowledge and skills.
The project was the brainchild of Adjunct Professor of Architecture, Don Watson, who organised it with Professor John Macarthur as a Masters Studio, all coming together with presentations before a jury on 27 October.
Dr Watson said the students had put together a brief based on what is there, with upgrades to improve accessibility and address shortcomings and new opportunities, while recognising the heritage of the complex and a wide range of stakeholders.
Efforts to obtain a copy of a brief for the ‘official’ university project had not got far.
“We were told this was being worked out; if there is a brief, that is as close as we came”, said Dr Watson.
Wide consultation had occurred, including with current leadership from the UQ Union, through the 2021 Union President Emily Scott and Secretary Ryan Jover.
Aligning with ‘conservation architects’ he said nature and heritage would be taken into account.
Keeping what is valuable
The drawings and plans on show on the day envisaged a development of valued assets: restoring the courtyard and forum; clearing the entrance area of the Schonell Theatre to give it a ‘proper foyer’; and returning student Union offices, and Union Council meeting room to a space they previously occupied:
“It would be an important place for meetings again; this would be a symbolic gesture,” he said.
Undertaking the students’ project had begun with major problems working out the different levels among the structures on an uneven site; in the end most following up with drawings of a multi-tiered complex of connected buildings, terraces and outdoor spaces.
Many purposes had been worked out, involving both good environmental use and probably good economies as well as providing a major eastern entrance to the campus from the Lakes bus terminal.
Some of the proposals built into the plans:
• Building two extra floors on the roof of the Relaxation Block, which were originally intended when it was first built in 1960 “obviously waiting for those to be done”.
• Putting in a High Street frontage of shops, and relocating the commercial outlets to the present first floor of the Relaxation Block as a high street frontage of shops open from the centre courtyard; and to replicate an earlier co-op in the complex a supermarket that should provide a financial benefit to the student Union, collecting traffic to and from the bus station by the river.
• Re-establishing a child care centre, as present facilities, though believed to be adequate, were on the other side of the campus; also reinstating the former Refectory dining room
• Building a major end of trip bicycle centre at a new basement level, accommodating 600 bikes, and also car parking, for short-term use or for theatre-goers.
• The Schonell Theatre is upgraded with a new lift providing step free access to link the Schonell, Theatre Cement Box and cinema foyers and also the stage and improved back of house facilities. A new flexible venue is proposed below the reinstated centre court, for rehearsals by the University symphony orchestra and other performances, and accessed from the new Eastern arrival stairs.
Dr Watson said some clear principles and guidelines could be taken from the project.
Footnote by Lee Duffield:
Applying to be elected by graduates to the university Senate, tough enough to achieve in a crowded field, I would be looking to have access to such expertise in many areas. Carrying plans like these in the briefcase can help you to check on what you have in front of you and make a point. A key point here is that the professional work done by these architects is informed by their knowledge of the culture of the place. Universities have been putting down and disempowering their main asset, the teaching and research academics they employ; as producers of knowledge they ought to turn that around.
For the election of graduate members of Senate please support Lee Duffield and Hamish Greenop-Roberts.
Lee Duffield PhD
Independent Australia, Pacific Journalism Review