Brisbane’s Landmark Modernist Apartment Building

Brisbane’s Landmark Modernist Apartment Building

News of a Torbreck apartment for sale moves fast among Brisbane’s architecture enthusiasts. 

Prominently located on the crest of Highgate Hill, this multi-residential landmark comprises two modernist-influenced reinforced concrete and brick buildings (the tower and garden blocks) crowned by a glass observation room.

Designed by architects Aubrey Job and Robert Froud in 1957 and constructed from 1958 to 1960, Torbreck is a significant early example of high-rise living in Queensland. A distinct feature of the development are the blue pre-colour coated metal louvres fixed vertically to protect central balconies in the tower block. These adjustable vertical sun ‘fins’ create dynamic random patterns of colour and texture as residents reposition the blades for their individual requirements. 

Friends knew David Clarke and Nic Freeman were hoping to buy a small home close to the city, so they were quickly alerted to a Torbreck apartment for sale in 2016. ‘We received two separate messages about the sale from close friends (an architect and a designer) on the same day, knowing it looked perfect for us and was in our neighbourhood,’ says David. 

The apartment in question had recently undergone a comprehensive makeover designed by the vendor, architect Aaron Peters of Vokes and Peters. ‘We loved everything about the renovation they did, especially the nods to modernism and all the timber and details in the bespoke cabinetry,’ says Nic. 

So taken with Aaron Peters’ vision, David and Nic have made a conscious effort not to alter the apartment since taking ownership. David says, ‘We spent ages sweating the decision to put a ceiling fan in the bedroom, trying to keep the clean lines but also survive the balmy Brisbane summers!’

Many of the other Torbreck residences remain in the original owners’ hands, or in some instances have been scooped up by existing residents seeking a slightly larger place! 

Natalie and James Lewandowski-Cox first spotted the building on a work trip before moving to Brisbane, and it had stuck in their minds ever since. ‘We kept thinking, “What’s that building with the air traffic control tower on top of it?!” James says. They eventually purchased their first apartment in 2015, before recently relocating to a larger residence after a major renovation. 

Working with architect Bruce Wolfe of Studio Wolfe and a team of stellar trades including NuTide Constructions, Natalie and James turned the home from a concrete shell into a bespoke project in just three months. The result is a more light-filled, spacious, and warm home, yet so in keeping with the building’s bones that one could easily assume the timber kitchen bench is an original feature.  

Mat Williams also purchased a smaller Torbreck apartment back in 2009 before upgrading to a larger place with wife Steph Cooper. Their apartment had been heavily renovated in the ‘90s, so they engaged Kin Architects to reinstate its modernist sensibilities including a ‘Jetsons-inspired kitchen.’

The communal areas of Torbreck seemingly remain as they were in 1960, complete with timber panelling and framed sketches of the original building concepts and plans that hang in the foyer.

‘Every floor in the building has a different colour for the hallway lino, but we all have some common features, like letterboxes and garbage shoots on each floor, and hall access milk cupboards that were originally intended for food deliveries to each apartment,’ says David Clarke.

It’s these communal spaces that have fostered the strong sense of community at Torbreck. David, Nic, Natalie, James, Mat and Steph (self-described as the ‘Torbreck lovers’) have all become friends as a result of living in the building, often coming together to watch the sunset, enjoy a glass of wine, or dance. There’s also a Torbreck gardening group and book club, in addition to neighbourly cake swaps, barbecues, and pool hangs.

‘Some people might see challenges in not having a garage, [having to] share a foyer and not having your own backyard, but we’ve learned to love these parts of apartment living,’ says David. ‘That’s how we’ve come to know so many neighbours.’

These owner-occupiers all feel proud to own a slice of Brisbane architectural history that provides views across the Brisbane River all the way to the Glass House Mountains and Moreton Island on a clear day.  

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