Studio 217: a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ for designing and dreaming

Studio 217 is located in the partly subterranean basement of heritage-listed Craigston, and is a tiny space – barely 32m2 – tucked off the main carpark. 

The studio reconfigured an existing internal space that has undergone change over time, being used first as part of the general carpark, then as enclosed storeroom, caretaker’s accommodation and finally a solicitor’s office, before its present use. 

Looking in the same direction as the first image, this shows the space as it was at the very start of the project.

Looking in the same direction as the first image, this shows the space as it was at the very start of the project.

Dark, cave-like materials and finishes reinforce the basement location. There are eight storeys of building above, and a partly lowered ceiling creates a sense of compression.

Just inside the entry, with the compressed ceiling above.

Just inside the entry, with the compressed ceiling above.

The underlying geology of Spring Hill, in particular the layered, tilted rock strata, is expressed using strong horizontal lines interrupted by sloping planes.  

To minimise the impact of potential water ingress formply was used extensively, the dark colour enhancing the cave-like atmosphere. 

Research through the Queensland Herbarium uncovered a list of tree species endemic to Spring Hill pre-European settlement.  White Mahogany was on the list, and recycled timber boards of this species appear on the surfaces where people sit or lean, and on the underside of the low ceiling band. 

The project stripped plasterboard wall linings, removed floor tiles and a suspended ceiling to reveal the concrete slabs, columns and brick walls.  These are part of Craigston’s pioneering construction: built in 1927 it was Brisbane’s first ‘high-rise’, and reportedly one of the first uses of reinforced concrete.

The timber studwork supporting the old plasterboard was donated to a friend, who used it on his own construction project. MDF, two-pack and volatile finishes were deliberately avoided. Brick walls were cleaned by soda blasting, which is less aggressive than sand blasting. 

The warmth and texture of the existing brickwork was revealed after soda blasting. Concrete 'drips' running down the face of the brick shows the original method of constructing the concrete framed building.

The warmth and texture of the existing brickwork was revealed after soda blasting. Concrete 'drips' running down the face of the brick shows the original method of constructing the concrete framed building.

Low-VOC paint was applied to the ceiling, and the exposed concrete floor finished with tinted penetrating oil. Plywood shelves and recycled timber boards have been left unfinished.

Numerous functional requirements were accommodated, including overnight guest accommodation, a piano, extensive library, a collection of seed pods, lino-printing facilities, and drawing board and design studio for two.  

The Landscapology collections have a new home.

The Landscapology collections have a new home.

Drawing board and desks occupy the raised platform.

Drawing board and desks occupy the raised platform.

A raised platform enabled a desk at window sill height, taking advantage of morning light for detailed work. The space below houses a slide-out bench seat and bed. 

The studio conceals its surprises...

The studio conceals its surprises...

...and then slides to reveal the concealed seat, bed, piano and more.

...and then slides to reveal the concealed seat, bed, piano and more.

Enclosing the piano within the joinery enabled a perched seating platform, and sliding cabinets contain collections and conceal artworks and the building structure behind. 

Apart from task lighting at the desks, lighting levels are deliberately low. Lamps are concealed, with light ‘leaking’ into the space through cracks and crevices. 

Previous occupants enlarged an original window to create a new doorway, and within this the new sliding door is the main evidence of new occupation visible from outside. 

The external courtyard provides the sole access to the studio, as well as pedestrian access to the carpark level of the building for residents. It was previously paved flush with the internal studio floor, and inadequate drainage resulted in frequent inundation.

New infrastructure was installed, and the external level lowered. The pavers were reused to construct new steps, and sandstone steppers reclaimed from previous Craigston use were added. Broken bricks salvaged from an internal renovation in the building were smashed with a sledgehammer over several weekends, and used to create a permeable mulch layer. 


Undoubtedly the most important people involved in making Studio 217 a reality were our builders, Rob and Chris Hogerheyde, from RAM Constructions. From start to finish they were extraordinary, achieving their customary craftsmanship and attention to detail in very cramped quarters. They even made an art installation to welcome us home after an extended holiday!

Q: How many lattes does it take to build a studio? A: A lot. Many more than this...

Q: How many lattes does it take to build a studio? A: A lot. Many more than this...

It goes without saying that without them, our studio wouldn’t be half the place it is today. Thanks, guys.


Studio 217 was a design collaboration by Amalie Wright and Richard Buchanan. It was recently awarded a Small Project Architecture Regional Commendation at the Brisbane Regional Architecture Awards.

Except for 'before' and 'during' construction shots, all photography by Christopher Frederick Jones.

Your Favourite Stories of 2013

It’s hard to believe the Landscapology blog has been up and running for six months now. In that time the number of people receiving weekly updates has more than doubled - thank-you for your interest and support! So as the year draws to a close, let’s take a look back at the stories that resonated most with our regular readers.

Here’s the Top 10:

10.  A Celebration of Texture: sometimes the bumpy bits are the most interesting - our small selection of beautifully textured pavements, walls, walls, artworks and plants.

9.  Design Class: make analysis your friend - the first of two simple guides to basics to looks out for and understand before you start designing.

8.  Elephants never forget...and they can teach you how to read drawings - Trunky the Elephant's Design 101 guide to understanding plans, elevations and sections.

7.  How I visited a park in Colombia and ended up with a book deal - as Future Park went to print I explained how the whole project came to be.

6.  Visit Landscapology at Brisbane Open House - a sneak peek inviting people to visit the new studio. The follow up story of the day was also popular.

5.  Back of House - celebrating the delights of the tangled, messy, not-for-public-view backs of our city buildings.

4.  Is the frangipani Brisbane’s favourite summer tree? - the answer was a resounding yes! And this story was a tie for fourth place, with...

4.  Landscapology’s 2013 Christmas Book Guide - last week's list of the books that have brought faraway landscapes closer to me this year.

3. the least likely location - our tour through delightful Newtown Creek Nature Walk, next door to New York's biggest sewage treatment plant.

2. Big Prawn...yawn: THIS sculpture park features the biggest from the world's best - our visit to the amazing Gibbs Farm Sculpture Park outside Auckland.

1.  Confessions of a sell-out: Future Park is launched! - my opportunity to thank everyone who has supported me along the long and sometimes rocky road to bring my book from dream to reality.


But now it’s over to you.

What’s been your favourite story this year and why? What would you like to see more of in 2014?

I’d love to know – please drop me a line in the comments below, or send me an email.


Of course if you know anyone who’d enjoy this article, please feel free to share. And if you've been sent this by a friend, consider signing up to receive a new design tip, feature project or Landscapology update in your inbox each week.

Stop by again next week when there will be more from the wonderful world of landscape, architecture and design.


All images © Amalie Wright, except Future Park launch photo, by Nicole Phillips.

Landscapology’s 2013 Christmas Book Guide

Well, it’s official.

We have breached the physical and psychological barrier keeping December at bay, and are now undeniably hurtling towards Christmas.

This means it’s the perfect time to indulge in the sport of summer book buying. Whether for your beloveds, your must-be-endureds, or for yourself, books are the perfect gift.

And so, after a year of shamelessly and relentlessly pressing my own book on you, (there, I’ve done it again!) it is with much pleasure that I present the 2013 Landscapology Christmas Book Guide. Unashamedly idiosyncratic, the list covers fiction and non-fiction, books released this year and others I’ve only just discovered.

The one thing they have in common: all have inspired and fed my abiding love for the many and marvelous landscapes of this amazing planet we call home.

 Creating Landscapes

 Landprints: the Landscape Designs of Bernard Trainor, Susan Heeger

Australian-born Trainor long ago decamped to California, and has spent the past decades building a successful practice inspired by, and giving back to the native west coast landscape. This gorgeous book includes beautiful hand-drawn landscape plans and evocative photography of the firm’s projects. One by one they demonstrate a restrained use of materials, a deep horticultural knowledge displayed in richly coloured and textured plant tapestries, and some of the most spectacular settings imaginable.

Nelson Byrd Woltz: Garden Park Community Farm, Warren T. Byrd Jr, Thomas L. Woltz, Stephen Orr (Ed.)

Thomas Woltz’s keynote presentation was one of my highlights from this year’s International Federation of Landscape Architects congress in Auckland. Earlier in the week he had collected a major prize from the New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects for the firm’s work at Nicks Head Station. Recently, he was named by the Wall Street Journal as one of its ‘Innovators of the Year’, and practice founder Warren T. Byrd was awarded the American Society of Landscape Architects highest honour, the ASLA Medal.

Underpinning this international recognition: nearly three decades of project work that utilises manifestly beautiful design in the service of environmental resilience. Divided into four sections, representing the range of project scales and types undertaken by the firm, this book is a galvanizing touchstone, making me want to do better work every time I open the cover. Be inspired…

Evoking Landscapes

The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens’ London, Judith Flanders

Think the Victorians were a boring, crusty lot only interested in covering the legs of pianos to avoid unnecessary excitement on the part of weak-willed gentlemen? Think again. London comes rushing off the page in all its sweaty, stinky, heaving glory in this marvelous, chewy smorgasbord of a book. Stroll familiar streets in your mind, as Judith Flanders conjures up the sights, sounds and aromas of hooves on cobbles, fires burning out of control, merchants selling door-to-door, people eating bread and jam on the street, carts lined up at turnstiles, overcrowded rooms and much, much more. A door-stopper of a book that still ends far too soon.

The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, Robert Macfarlane

From the master of the silken phrase comes The Old Ways, Robert Macfarlane’s quest to explore the old journeys through Britain, the ones that connect people today, step-by-step, to centuries of forebears, traditions and intimate connection with the land. Macfarlane could write about taking out the rubbish in such a way as to make it feel part of a weekly ritual linking humanity across time and borders, so when he has a seriously good subject in his grasp the results are sublime. The Old Ways is such a subject. Very few things could persuade me that spending a night lying on damp rocky ground in a howling gale is a good idea, but this book goes a long way towards making it seem worthwhile.

Holloway, Robert Macfarlane, Stanley Donwood and Dan Richards

Robert Macafarlane first introduced non-British readers to the mysteries and wonders of the holloways in his previous book, Wild Places. Ancient sunken paths, holloways place the traveler half inside the earth and half in another world altogether, partly hidden from view, partly  trapped between our time and one of long ago.  Stanley Donwood has produced cover artworks for Radiohead; here his beautiful woodcuts introduce his work to a new audience. A tiny book, with magic in every page.

Landscape Reflections

Mindfulness and the Art of Urban Living: Discovering the Good Life in the City, Adam Ford

A recent discovery, this wonderful book, by a former Priest-in-ordinary (I'm not 100% certain what that actually entails) to the Queen at the Chapel Royal, is a truly delightful call to pause and reflect on the many wonders available to city dwellers, if only we stop to notice. Australian readers will enjoy Ford's reflections on familiar places, and I was intrigued to see he too had discovered the delights of London's Abney Park Cemetery, a place I spent many hours visiting whilst researching Future Park.

More Scenes from the Rural Life, Verlyn Klinkenborg

Verlyn Klinkenborg writes a much-loved column in the New York Times, and this is his second collection of writings inspired by daily life on his small farm outside the city. I can only read a few pages at a time of this book: the writing is so wonderful it makes me shake in frustration at the man’s facility with language. Luckily I soon recover, drawn back to discover what the horses, and squirrels, and chickens are up to today. Delight in the illustrations by Nigel Peake. Read it and slip under the spell of the daily, weekly and yearly miracles of nature.

The Lost Carving: a journey to the heart of making, David Esterly

David Esterly is an American artisan, a specialist in a rarified technique of wood carving that reached its zenith in the 1600s. After the devastating 1986 fire at Hampton Court Palace, Esterly was one of a small group of artists invited to repair, research, reimagine and recreate damaged panels created by master carver Grinling Gibbons. As his family adjust to their new life in London, descriptions of the landscape of Esterly’s creekside studio intertwine with his new workspace at the palace. Hours of concentrated work are interrupted by flurries of unknowing tourists hurrying past outside. Grinling Gibbons’ London contrasts with the contemporary city. The Lost Carving is a gentle and deeply moving meditation on a life dedicated to the mastery of a physical, yet elusive artform.


Landscape as Character

Burial Rites, Hannah Kent

Regular readers will be well aware of my love of Burial Rites, the story of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last woman executed in Iceland. The harsh and complex landscape of Iceland is an undisputed major character in the book, tenderly, powerfully evoked. The weakest glow of sunshine raises hopes of redemption, but it is the cold, the cold, that binds us to Agnes as the days close in.

Flight Behaviour, Barbara Kingsolver

As a huge fan of The Poisonwood Bible and The Lacuna I awaited the release of Flight Behaviour with much wriggling restlessness. A suitably hefty tome duly arrived and I sped through early chapters, quickly throwing on the brakes to slow things down in the vain hope that an ending might be indefinitely delayed. Dellarobia Turnbow’s life is lived in Appalachian Tennessee, with a loving but constraining husband and two small children in a tiny house on her in-laws' property. An early morning encounter in the mountains behind her house changes Dellarobia’s life forever. What she originally perceives as the mountain on fire is instead a lost population of migrating monarch butterflies. What happens when the wordly concerns of research, science, and global warming intersect with the uncomfortable intimacies of a rural town? Flight Behaviour is a heart-breaking, redemptive, and enthralling year-long journey of a woman discovering life beyond any she had imagined could possibly exist.

Local is Lovely

There are many more other terrific books I’ve enjoyed: they've contributed to my knowledge and filled me with warmth, inspiration and wonder, but limited space prevents me from mentioning them all individually. The following two Australian titles are still on the night table, either in early progress, or about to be tackled.

The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia, Bill Gammage

Published last year, it immediately started attracting awards like prickles to wooly socks. I saw Bill speak at the State Library earlier in the year, and have been saving up his book as a special treat. I've only just started it and already the depth of research is evident and compelling. His thesis: that the land Europeans perceived as 'untouched wilderness' in 1788 was in fact the result of deliberate, long-term, and continent-wide management by aborigines, who particularly used fire to manage reliable plant and animal cropping.

Let the Land Speak A History of Australia: How the land created our nation, Jackie French

Himself is nearly finished this one, which is going to be a fascinating read, if the numerous quotable facts and curiosities shared to date is anything to go by.

The last two books are also by Australian authors I've spent time with this year, whose work I'm delighted to share with you.

A Singular Vision: Harry Seidler, Helen O'Neill

I had the singular pleasure of hosting a conversation with Helen O’Neill at the Brisbane launch of her biography of Harry Seidler, the Austrian-born, Canadian-interned, Harvard-educated architect, who became one of the most divisive figures in Sydney during his four-plus decade career in that city. This beautifully produced book tells the story of the man behind the headlines. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in the development of modernist architecture in Australia, and in the stories of the many migrants who have contributed to our growth and success.

Know the Rules, Nicole Arnett Phillips

Nicole contributed so much to the success of Future Park that it gives me enormous pleasure to end my list with this limited edition book exploring her “passion for print, love for letterforms and design research and creative exploration.” Nicole has produced Know the Rules through her own private press, Glyphs and Graphemes. The success of this edition in finding an appreciative audience gives me enormous personal pleasure, and confirms my belief that I'm not alone in loving bespoke design, personal artistry and craftsmanship, and the tactile delights of books.

Pages from  Know the Rules , by Nicole Arnett Phillips.

Pages from Know the Rules, by Nicole Arnett Phillips.

But now it’s over to you.

What has most inspired your connection with landscape this year? Has it been anything on the list? Perhaps something else has inspired you to think differently about your garden or park, your project, city or country.

I’d love to know, so please drop a line in the comments below.

Of course if you know anyone who’d enjoy this article, please feel free to share. There will be more from the wonderful world of landscape, architecture and design next week.


All images Amalie Wright.