This article draws out the essence of the 7th Brisbane Conversation held by UDAL which addressed the legacy of Olympic cities and of the Urban Design Charrette that followed.

About the Authors

Kathi Holt is an architect and urban designer, and President of the Urban Design Alliance Queensland (UDAL). Contact:

John Montgomery is an urban and regional planner, an urban and regional economist and a strategic urban designer. He is Executive Officer for UDAL. Contact:


Brisbane Conversation 

The Urban Design Alliance Queensland (UDAL) held its 7th Brisbane Conversation on 21st July 2021 in Bowen Hills. The focus was on the potential for an Olympic Legacy to People, Places, Design and Culture. The purpose was to learn from other cities’ experience of hosting the Olympic Games, and of seeing this as an opportunity to develop new approaches to city planning, economic development, regional and spatial planning and place-making at the more local level. This new approach to planning for the summer Olympics seems to have begun in Seoul in 1988, but especially Barcelona in 1992, Sydney in 2000 and London 2012.  All of these cities made efforts to build new stadia and new facilities, but also new transport infrastructure, work areas, maker areas, arts venues, tourism attractions, linking all of this to urban regeneration and economic and city development into the future. Are there lessons from these cities that we apply for Brisbane and South East Queensland (SEQ)?

The expert panel comprised six speakers. The first contributor was Lindy Johnson, a design professional and advocate of international standing. She argued that the hosting of the Olympic Games and the preparatory planning and building projects should position good design at the heart of its approach. By this she means that good urban design makes ‘places’ – buildings, sporting venues, public spaces towns, centres, neighbourhoods, urban areas – achieving a better balance or ‘fit’ with economic, social, cultural and environmental conditions and standards. Design enables places to become more accessible, vital, livable, walkable and convivial. She went on to argue for prioritising good architecture too – delivering more beautiful and inspiring buildings, plus public art. She suggested the production of a Design Guide to architecture and urban design in South-East Queensland, arguing that a key part of the legacy of the Games will be in showcasing the best Australian architecture and urban design, along with the creative industries. Design should be at the heart of planning for the Olympics, and South East Queensland more widely.

Design Festivals and production of Design Guides are a means to celebrate cities as global design centres. They serve as focal points for designers and the public to interact, promote products and generate investment in cities and design. The 2016 London Design Festival, for example, created its own design identity. This festival is organised into 9 districts across London. In addition, there are several trade shows, including the London Design Fair.

Then Claire Sourgnes, CEO of Artisan, the contemporary design lead organization in Queensland, called for a focus on cultural precincts and quarters, particularly anchored around First Nation People and landscape ecologies. This should recognize cultural production as well as cultural consumption. It involves the creation of new work in contemporary design (and in the arts and creative industries more generally). The argument is that as well as venues to ‘consume’ art – watching, listening, viewing in galleries, theatres and concert halls – there should be a strong arts sector that produces new work. This can be supported by studio and workspaces, business incubators, facilities and more, not forgetting bursaries and prizes and start-up loans and grants. Such an approach is often followed through in particular urban places especially. There are now many examples from the UK and the USA, and from Finland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland. Some of these are located in former industrial buildings – the Cable, Chocolate and Custard Factories, the Gas Works, the Boston Mattress Factory; others in whole city areas such as the Sheffield CIQ, Temple Bar in or Wood Green. In Australia there are initiatives like Metro Arts in Brisbane, the Jam Factory in Adelaide, Abbotsford Convent and Salamanca Place in Hobart. Claire referred to Artisan’s aspirations for a Maker Precinct in Bowen Hills, but also noted that a similar approach is possible in Kelvin Grove, the fringes of Southbank and Woolloongabba.

Artisan Gallery at night: Artisan is a lead industry body for contemporary crafts across Queensland and operates as a gallery and shop at King Street, Bowen Hills. (Photo by: Artisan).

Matthew Miller, Queensland General Manager at property developer and manager Dexus argued that the Olympics was an opportunity to showcase the best of subtropical design in the region, contrasting with the architecture of other cities in Australia. Matthew presented a compelling vision for connected experiences of public space, along with high quality development using their own newly approved Brisbane Waterfront Precinct at Eagle Street Pier. This example of a well-designed, commercial, mixed-use development will offer Brisbane new connections with the river by integrating climate responsive, subtropical urban design, landscape and placemaking to open up access to the waterside. It is aimed at creating a unique sense of place, balanced by a viable development that includes 120,000 sq m offices, 7000 sq m of hospitality uses (including café culture) at ground floor level and new public spaces. Coincidentally, there is a proposal for a new cultural precinct in this area. Dexus are proposing a similar approach for projects in Woolloongabba, Albert Street in Brisbane CBD and Roma Street. It is important that the producers of new built space, who will be making much of the new development happen, are attuned to this sort of thinking across South-East Queensland.

Eagle Street Pier and Waterfront Place is to be transformed into a high end dining as well as tourist and leisure destination.

Dr Catherin Bull AM is a landscape architect and designer of renown. She advised the Sydney Olympic Park Authority on the ongoing development, improvement and management of the Park, the main venue for the 2000 Olympics. She reasoned that building a legacy for such major events extends beyond the Games themselves and into the future planning and development of host cities. The challenge for Brisbane, she believes, is in understanding of what is needed to create lasting urban value and for whom. Sydney’s Olympic Games legacy remains ongoing: there is a strong commitment to improve rail, light rail and other transport. The Sydney Olympic Park Master Plan 2030 is reviewed every five years. The latest such was in 2018. The Masterplan identifies opportunities to transform the precinct into an urban centre with a new school, five additional or enhanced parks, employment opportunities, residential communities and retail. A new Sydney Metro Station has been announced, together with a new integrated precinct development. This includes a new pedestrian plaza, a new urban park, a bus interchange and a redesigned local street network. For Sydney Olympic Park as a place, the accent is on the parks as destinations to be enjoyed, leisure, mixed use commercial development, the arts and hospitality. Catherin reinforced that it is important to plan early and flexibly, and that the development timescale is more than one decade. In closing she asked: ‘Where do we find the great strategists and tacticians who understand governance as well as creating lasting spatial change; who think at the precinct scale and understand the importance of the fourth dimension – time – in achieving lasting legacies?

Sydney Olympic Parklands is a major environmental legacy of the Games.

Dr John Montgomery, planner, urban economist and strategic urban designer provided a case study of Barcelona’s approach to planning for the Olympic Games of 1992, seen as a broader rediscovery of the city as ‘a cultural phenomenon’[1]. As well as the necessary upgrades and new-build sports venues, the city took its chance to build a new beach, connecting the city to the sea, embarking upon a programme of making 150 new and redesigned public spaces, creating new transport links and better arrival points, making a new urban village, redesigning Barceloneta, and growing new industries. Great stress was placed on cultural as well as physical development. The new industries were things like tourism, cultural tourism, hospitality, hotels, nightlife, as well as older still successful activities like publishing, design and architecture, and fashion, while the creative industries were a source of creating new work from old. The new and upgraded transport infrastructure was specifically designed to bring people to the city and to the wider region, while the sports stadia were seen more broadly as events venues. The city region’s stock of arts venues was repaired, upgraded and added to. Barcelona’s built form, layout and design became an active part of this endeavor, not simply a passive backdrop.

Arial of redeveloped beach and port in Barcelona after 1992: The Olympic Games accelerated urban and environmental projects to regenerate the seafront and surrounding areas, create new urban beaches and promenades and build the Olympic Village, a new Olympic Port, and more.


Prof. Paul Burton, Chair of Design at Griffiths University offered some reflections on his experience of the Gold Coast bid and hosting of the Commonwealth Games in 2019.  He reminded us that although the games and other infrastructure gets planned and built first, this is a necessary condition rather than sufficient condition. Early planning for city region economic development should bring tangible and intangible benefits to South-East Queensland. There are for example opportunities to develop new business locations, more affordable housing, and stronger place-making. Although Games certainly has the capacity to raise the international profile of a host city, this can and should go beyond urban ‘boosterism’. There will of course be jobs for local people in construction, but what sorts of new jobs might be grown that are longer lasting?  Paul argued for a whole design strategy as part of planning for the Olympic Games in 2032. This would include environment, place, ecology, human scale, the public realm, adaptability and good architecture. It would avoid over-formulaic approaches to sports events’ planning. Consultation amongst groups with expertise and the public generally should be as wide-ranging as possible.

The Stratford Pavilion is a state-of-the-art timber framed building in the Endeavour Square heart within the International Quarter, which is a mixed-use neighbourhood of the Stratford CBD and gateway location to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The Pavilion contains a visitors’ centre for the Park and London’s latest hospitality concept Haugen, essentially a place where the community can meet.

In summary, the main themes were:

  1. Design should/could be central to unlocking the attributes of the region and showcasing the best that Queensland has to offer in terms of urban design, landscape and architecture, revealing South East Queensland expertise to the world;
  2. The development and management of ‘Maker’ and other creative and cultural precincts should focus on the arts, design, the creative industries, as well as consumption and production;
  3. The importance of integrating mixed use commercial development with the creation of public spaces, walking routes, and sub-tropical climate-responsive architecture;
  4. Taking a long-term view at the outset, especially in relation to transport infrastructure; and creating parklands and areas of passive and active recreation, in addition to some Olympic sports;
  5. The planning of the athletes’ village as a city residential and mixed-use district This would be an important part of the overall regeneration or revitalization of city districts and other places by careful planning, infrastructure development, area strategies, urban design and architectural excellence, arts development, economic development and new work remaking the public realm.
  6. The building in of cultural and social objectives from the onset, along with a robust process that engages the public, along with growing prosperity and jobs across SEQ, while thinking beyond the stadia and roads, important as these may be.

Urban Design Charrette

Sketch overlooking the Royal Queensland Showgrounds at Bowen Hills, made by Peter Richards, architect, urban designer and Director of the practice Dieke Richards.

The views and provocations from the six speakers provided the backdrop of challenges to the urban design charrette that was held the following day. The articles that follow in Urban Design Review are derived from the Urban Design Charrette of 22 July 2021[2]. Six themes were identified, each assigned to a table. These are:

Cities and Regions

Strategic planning across the city region Gold Coast, Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast Logan, Ipswich, Toowoomba, Moreton Bay, Maroochydore. A city like Brisbane has a close inter-relationship with its region, economically, socially and culturally. This includes settlements, work, agriculture, recreation, food, goods and drink. How might this develop over the next 15 years?

A Makers’ and cultural precinct at Bowen Hills

This places the argument for cultural production – making, producing, creating – at the heart of the cultural economy, alongside consideration of arts consumption in venues, theatres and concert halls. Bowen Hills is home to an aspirational project showcasing the contemporary arts from all over Queensland; with consideration given to the number of studios, workshops, galleries and other types of spaces that would support such an emerging economy. Is this a model that could be used and adapted elsewhere in SEQ?

The Public Realm – New Public Spaces for Brisbane and the region

Potential new and improved public spaces could be identified across Brisbane and in the other cities and towns. Woolloongabba – ‘the Gabba’ was studied in detail as a place of connected spaces, corners and places to sit, a point of arrival and major new public squares.

Health, Well-being and Public Social Life

Good places, good uses and walkability, including diversity, inclusion and disability. The argument is that well-designed cities, precincts and neighbourhoods help to promote and support healthier living, by allowing people to walk more, and safely, and by the emergence of third spaces offering public social life in spaces and premises. Links and connections across the city can be identified for further development – walking trails, cycles paths and laneways.

Horses and the City

Equestrian events, paralympic focus and placemaking. An exploration of the relationship between cities, horses and the equestrian events planned for the Olympics. Horses have had many roles in the urbanization of cities, including historic roles in agriculture, transport, sport, and more recently riding schools and city farms? Focusing on the equestrian events and the role of horses in public space, health and well-being, enabled both the Paralympics and the Olympics to be considered on equal terms. This table drew on the expertise of an equine scientist, and the CEO of Riding for the Disabled to expand the thinking and ideas.

Affordable Housing

This group examined the opportunities for delivering affordable housing, through urban regeneration and the requirements of the athletes’ village. Options were explored for Brisbane using typological exemplars and sustainable best practice from overseas.

Sydney Olympics Athletes’ Village was developed on ‘brownfields’ land by the private sector to house some 15,000 athletes and officials. It was refurbished after the Games as the first of three stages in the redevelopment of Newington suburb. The image shows some of the development 12 years after the closing ceremony.

What’s Next?

Because of the global importance of Barcelona in terms of its planning, urban design, architecture and culture, and the knowledge that Dr John Montgomery brings, it has been decided to include this as a detailed case study in three parts. The next articles to be published are:

Barcelona 1992 Olympics Part I – Late 19th Century to Olympic Planning

Barcelona 1992 Olympics Part II – New City Planning

Barcelona 1992 Olympics : Part III – Cultural Policy

These will be followed by articles on: Maker, Cultural and Creative Industry Precincts; The Public Realm and Place Making; and, City Regions and Development Strategies.  Articles on Health and Well-Being, Horses and The City, and Affordable Housing – are in the making. We pull the work together in an article that sets out proposals for an Olympic Legacy in the form of a 12-Point Plan for Brisbane and South East Queensland.


UDAL would like to thank our speakers, and our partners and sponsors – Artisan, Studio THI, ARUP, and Lendlease. Thank you also to those who turned out to help organize the events. Images used in this article are from UDAL.

Notes & References

[1] Barcelona City Mayor, Pasqual Maragall, ‘We have saved the city as a cultural concept’, September 1992.

[2] Both UDAL events were held in partnership with Artisan, Studio THI, ARUP, and sponsored by Lendlease at the award-winning Aurecon building in Bowen Hills.