Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Torbreck Home Units

I ticked another thing off from my bucket list...visiting the landmark Torbreck building in Highgate Hill. Torbreck is one of the first highrise mixed-use (though the proposed restaurant and shop never eventuated) residential towers in Brisbane, which was built between 1957 - 1960 and designed by architects Job & Froud (read my post about a Froud house).

It is one of those Brisbane buildings which fascinates locals. Due to its very high location up on Dornoch Terrace, it is the most visible and distinctive looking building on Brisbane's southside. It always had the reputation of being the residence of the well-heeled...and to some extent, it still has that reputation today with the units occupied by mostly professionals.

I've always wanted to see the units and when Chris from Australian Modern organised a tour of the building for his annual MAD Weekend, I jumped at the opportunity... as did many other mid-century architecture enthusiasts.

Torbreck Home Units

The Torbreck entry from Dornoch Terrace

The Torbreck home units comprise of the Tower Block and the Garden Block which are linked by an external walkway.The Garden Block was erected first, with the Tower Block following quickly afterwards. If you want to read a more detailed account of the Torbreck building you can visit their website HERE which has links to further information.

Interestingly (for me, at any rate) , the architect who designed our house also worked on the drawings for the Garden Block when he was a student architect at Job & Froud. As a consequence, I was very keen to seen these compact one-bedroom units in this block.

First floor of the Torbreck Garden Block

Mid-century brick relief between the Tower and Garden Block. You can also just see that a different coloured check tile was used on each level of the Garden Block
We saw four different units in the Garden Block which the owners very graciously opened up for us during our visit. Each unit would have been almost identical when they were built, but over the years they were renovated or updated to suit their individual owners.

Original kitchen in a Garden Block unit

Some of the units had original kitchens while others units were completely reconfigured. One unit had its bedroom moved to where the kitchen would have been originally, while its bedroom was enclosed behind glass partition walls. It was interesting to see how each resident used and interpreted their living space.

Original planter boxes on the balcony of a Garden Block unit which overlooks the communal swimming pool.

The highrise Tower Block units are the more spacious units of the two blocks. We visited three very different two-bedroom units in the Tower. The Tower block also takes in the most spectacular views with each unit having at least one balcony.

Looking up to the Tower Block from the linking bridge 

Again, the Tower units were different in style, some with many of the original features, while others were updated to a more contemporary style, often undoing past renovation of previous owners.

Original entry/ kitchen in one of the two-bedroom Tower Block units

Lovely contemporary plywood kitchen.
Apparently, the original kitchen was replaced in the 1980s with a pink and curvy kitchen which had dated quite badly. The new owner has brought back some restraint to the space and has referenced the exterior Torbreck tiles in the splash back. 

Climatic design elements can be seen at play in the building. For example, full height sun blades are used to control the sun on the eastern and western sides of the building. It allows owners to adjust the amount of light and breeze to enter the unit.

Blue metal sun blades to control the light

In the units, the internal plumbing is stored in the ceilings. Originally they would have been hidden behind a perspex ceiling which gives an almost ethereal light adding the illusion of space in the small bathroom/laundry. 

In some units the perspex has been replaced with solid panels and in one particular unit the quirky owner decided to rip out the ceiling entirely and paint the pipes gold! GOLD!

Quirky exposed plumbing 
The jewel in the crown for Torbreck is definitely its observation lounge on the top floor. It has the best uninterrupted view of Brisbane and was definitely a huge highlight of the entire visit. How lucky to have this in the building where you live! It was simply breathtaking and was a fabulous place to sit and contemplate the world.

The Torbreck observation lounge with 360 degree views of Brisbane. 

Drawings of the observation lounge and proposed roof top garden which was never built.
Torbreck is on the Queensland Heritage register. The iconic Brisbane building will also be featured in the Hot Modernism exhibition at the Queensland State Library starting on 9 July.

Its image is the 'face' of the promotional campaign.

Image from here


  1. Hello,

    We have greatly enjoyed out tour of the Torbreck building. So intriguing to see what people have done to personalise the space. However, we cannot help but be drawn to those which still have many of the original features and take us back to the days of our childhoods!

    The observation floor is truly amazing with some breathtaking views. Interesting to wonder why this is incorporated into the building.

    1. Thanks Jane and Lance. Torbreck was an incredibly ambitious project for Brisbane at that time...I think the observation lounge was mostly to add further appeal to this whole highrise concept...a bold mid-century flourish? A store and restaurant were planned but were never realised and the roof top garden was never built due to financial problems. At any rate, the observation floor enjoys the best views of Brisbane and the residents are very lucky indeed. xx

  2. It was really interesting to see your tour and read a bit more about the building. I don't think that I could live with those pipes exposed in the bathroom, gold painted or not! Also I would need more room in the kitchen I suspect, but otherwise I find them very intriguing and imagine that it would be a great place to live. xx

    1. Thanks Amy. They are fairly tight living spaces but they are so appealing up close. I loved the gold pipes - the owner has a strong artistic streak. xx

  3. What a wonderful building it is! I love getting a peek into it and learning its history. It's a fascinating place, and the original tile and flowers boxes are amazing. Too bad they never built the restaurant or shop.

    Before buying my house, my daughter and SIL lived in a huge multi-story apartment building. The basement had several shops and galleries, a restaurant and a grocery store. I think they found it very convenient to live in a place that was virtually self-contained, if need be. Food shopping was less expensive elsewhere, but it was nice not to have to leave the building if you ran out of eggs or had a craving for ice cream.

    1. It is a fabulous building Dana. I agree it is a shame that the restaurant and shop were never realised. How convenient would life be to just catch the lift down to the shop! Mind you the area is full of great places to eat now. xx

  4. lived above the pool on level 1 of the garden block for years! had the best balcony garden full of sun x

  5. What a great place to have lived in. That Garden Block was something very special and we visited 3 units on that first floor. What great memories you'd have. xx

  6. I was also super happy to have been able to peek inside so many amazing apartments in this iconic building. I loved the spotted, frosted glass and those cute louvres. The observation deck is amazing.

    1. I bet you got some terrific shots that day. It was fun seeing so many great apartments. xx


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