Friday 18th March

James Russell 

James Russell –(Image taken from Russell, 2010)

Nestled between two 19th century state heritage-listed buildings in Fortitude Valley, the Brookes Street house is a modern, raw, cubby-like home for a family of four.  

A major challenge in constructing the project was to create a secure and green inner sanctum amidst the chaos of 2 major arterial roads that link the city of Brisbane.  The site was initially a piece of car parking space, wedged between the listed buildings.  

This unites the listed buildings, the office in front of the church and the home. The new building is a tall narrow structure grafted to the side of the church.  With double height glass facing the street, it recedes into the shadows of its neighbour.  Tucked under the house is a small commercial space opening onto the landscaped forecourt.  

The house wraps around three sides of the grass, with the church wall and stained glass windows forming the fourth wall.  Living spaces sit on either side of the courtyard-one a less formal “play room” and the other with the kitchen and “grown-up” lounge. Above the living areas are the sleeping areas-the children’s above the playroom, and the parents’ suspended over the kitchen and lounge.  

(Russell, 2010) 

Brookes street office North. (Image taken from Australian Institute of Architects, 2010)



An Environmental Filter:

Brookes street residence acts as an environmental filter from the chaos of Fortitude Valley. This includes noise, pedestrians and traffic.  The site is surrounded by two very busy roads and it successfully manages to hide its occupants from the noise offense and the passing traffics. Occupants of this residence are completely separated from the outside world, and can retreat up into the tranquillity. The street presence is surprisingly discreet. Russell’s home yields the foreground to both 19th century buildings, an effect exaggerated by stacking a recessed office space and house entry gate at ground level under the glazed double-height residential elevation, and by ensuring that the roof is not visible from the street – it appears only as a transparent wall defining an edge – although the steel anchors attached to the church’s buttresses, supporting the double height glazing, are manipulated awkwardly. (Hampson, n.d.)


Brookes street office North. (Image taken from Australian Institute of Architects, 2010)


Section and Floor plan of Brookes street Residence (Image taken from Russell, 2010)


A Container for Human Activities:

James Russel has designed this unique residence to play the role of family home as well as office and business image.  As well as blending into its location, one of the concerns for this design was the segregation of spaces within such a small space. James Russell has managed to house many human activities in his relatively small building without compromising comfort.

Use of light transparent materials for internal light but also rain and weather resistant. (Image taken from Australian Institute of Architects, 2010)



The Brookes Street North Office is a carefully inserted, three story building occupying the northern corner of a 19th century heritage-listed Methodist Church, in the busy inner-city suburb of Fortitude Valley.

The intent behind the design was to explore a model for office development that maximises inner-city voids as site, and investigating methods of occupation within the public and private realm.

The Office consists of three levels all of which relate and interact to future developments within the church. The levels comprise of a subterranean masonry base, a transparent meeting place, and an elevated timber working platform. Investigation and care was invested into the materiality and assembly of the three contrasting levels.

A playful use of brick bonds allows the crafted masonry basement to provide a staircase and suspended floor to the public level above. Creating a form more akin to a landscape mound rather than a room, ensures a seamless continuation of the urban landscape into the heart of the development.

Relating to the elevated level of passers by in the neighbouring thoughough fair, the public nature of the meeting space is emphasised by two transparent walls which neatly collapse into the basement. A secondary brick stair inserted between the existing church and the office, provides a discreet nook down into the basement or up into the working platform.

Arrival into the elevated working platform reveals a hidden uncovered timber deck flanked by the un-interrupted brick detail of the existing church. A sweeping timber desk and a series of simple, yet elegant solid timber shutters borders the perimeter wall which likens the office to a piece of occupied joinery rather than a room.  

The open deck and operable capacity of the face allows the office to primarily remain open to the elements, maximising the generous climate of South East Queensland. However, external glazed awnings and a weatherproof curtain allow the office to retreat during harsh weather with only particular. (Russell, 2010)


This photo shows a fantastic use of limited spaces. (Image was taken from Hampson, n.d.)


A delightful experience:

The most delightful experience of this building is discovering where it is. Even if you are looking for it along Brookes Street, it’s a surprise to come across it. It’s almost like a secret attic or hidden passage. James Brooke included a little bit of delight in just finding this building. Also the enjoyment of building in such a special space. Like no one knows you there.

Great interview with James Russel –

James Russell Architect

Contemporary architecture which interacts with its surrounds

South East Queensland is the base for both my practice and home. This region is subtropical and has a diversity of landscape and density.

The sub-tropics allows us a great freedom in architecture that is not possible in many parts of the world. Shelter is only necessary to moderate the climate rather than block us off or isolate us from it. A tree often provides the most desirable shelter on a balmy summer day. There are times when it is cold and times when a storm blows through and for this the building can close down or a space for retreat is provided.

My approach is one that encourages the occupant to embrace the environment and surrounding conditions. I find that there is an awareness of climate that comes from this approach and a heightened experience and appreciation of the environment around us.

Our projects are informed by their surrounds. The resulting building doesn’t necessarily reflect the character of neighbouring buildings, but talks to and relates with them.

My projects are generally more grounded than traditional buildings in this region. New build projects can easily be sited close to the ground but traditional “Queenslanders” are lofty and often isolated from the ground.

The resulting spaces can be carefully considered for their purpose and built with a reasonable level of craft. (Domain Design, 2010)


Australian Institute of Architects, 2010 Brookes street office north, (accessed 13th March 2010)

Domain Design, 2010, James Russell Architect, (accessed 10th March 2010)

Hampson, A. n.d. The Reformation, (accessed on the 15th March 2010)


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