New take on old problems

Plumb’s Chambers is being used as a case study by environmental law students from the University of Queensland, pictured here with lecturer Dr Chris McGrath (front, kneeling) and architect Geoff Cook (far right).
Plumb’s Chambers is being used as a case study by environmental law students from the University of Queensland, pictured here with lecturer Dr Chris McGrath (front, kneeling) and architect Geoff Cook (far right).

THERE’S nothing like looking at a problem with a fresh set of eyes, and on Friday, the controversial Plumb’s Chambers in Warwick was looked over by about 150 of them.

Two busloads of environmental law students from the University of Queensland hit Warwick to conduct a fictional case study on the historic commercial site, more than half of which will face the wreckers if a legal bid to save it fails.

Demolition of the older of the two buildings, the timber one at 82 Fitzroy Street, and the rear of the sandstone one next door remains on hold due to a court appeal lodged by Canning Downs stud owner John Barnes and architect Geoff Cook.

In the meantime the site has been cordoned off after owner the McConaghy Group – which owns Rose City Shoppingworld – applied for Southern Downs Regional Council and State Government permission to carry out as-yet unspecified “emergency safety works”.

A council spokeswoman yesterday said the site was still being inspected, with the buildings standing in the way of a planned expansion of the shopping centre.

The extra space would be used to create a larger heavy vehicle delivery and turning area.

With local opinion divided over the future of Plumb’s, which dates back to the late 1800s, Friday’s student visit generated some interesting ideas for its potential re-development.

Supervised by lecturer Dr Chris McGrath, the students were told to imagine they were consultants working for a client who wanted to restore and re-use the buildings commercially.

After inspecting the site from the outside in the rain, the group retreated to the Leslie Park bandstand to brainstorm.

One idea put forward was to transform Plumb’s into professional office suites and in particular a legal precinct, to tie in with the nearby police station and courthouse.

Other suggestions included a medical centre, a premium food precinct and restaurant, backpacker accommodation or a rural merchandise store, harking back to one of its original uses as a seed store.

Another outside-the-square idea was to turn the buildings into a new entrance for an expanded Shoppingworld.

Dr McGrath stressed to the students that in a real-life redevelopment scenario, any “adaptive re-use” would need to stack up commercially.

“Restored and re-used, the buildings would really complement the rest of the street, with the wonderful sandstone architecture of the police station and courthouse,” Dr McGrath said.

Architect Geoff Cook, who is based in Brisbane but owns a rural property near Warwick, accompanied the visit and told the students anything was possible with the buildings from a structural point of view.

“While it may seem challenging, the idea that nothing is feasible here shouldn’t enter your mind,” he said.

“There’s nothing that can’t be restored – cost is the issue and making it commercially viable.

“But a blank supermarket wall and a truck turning bay facing Fitzroy Street would in my view be a poor outcome.”

Mr Cook said there were “some wonderful examples” elsewhere of older buildings restored using “contemporary elements” such as glass and creative uses of timbers.

Former Brisbane City Council town planner Chris Robertson, who also made the trip to Warwick, said the concept of “fusion” needed to be introduced in the Rose City.

“This is the idea of having separate uses of a building in the daytime and at night,” he said.

“You might have part of the space as professional offices and part of it as a restaurant and a gallery of some kind.”

The McConaghy Group has previously committed to preserving the front stone section of 84 Fitzroy Street but has declined to be drawn on its specific plans.

For more on the study, visit www.envlaw.

Plumb’s chambers - where it’s at...

In 2009 council approved demolition of the older building at 82 Fitzroy Street (timber ‘Cantors’ building) and the rear section of 84 next door.

Canning Downs stud owner John Barnes appealed the decision in the Planning and Environment Court of Queensland, which upheld demolition of 82 as it had been mistakenly left off the council’s heritage list; the appeal relating to the rear of 84 is ongoing (both are State heritage-listed).

Council has previously given in-principle support to the expansion of Rose City Shoppingworld, including a new entrance to the underground car park in the form of a ramp in the middle of Fitzroy Street.

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