The Drape: ARM and m3architecture’s concept for QPAC

The Queensland Performing Arts Centre this year held a design competition for a new theatre. The new venue will join the heritage complex designed in the 1980s by Robin Gibson, Queensland’s most influential modern architect.

ARM partnered with Brisbane’s m3architecture and this is what we came up with.


Underneath the drape is the perfect Robin Gibson. Another perfect Gibson to complement the others, to calibrate them instantly with the 21st Century. The missing piece that completes the set. It’s so new that it’s still in its wrapping, still to be unveiled.

It’s as if we’re waiting for a giant hand to snatch the drape away, to expose our Gibson to the world with all the drama of a magician revealing the implausible punchline of a trick to his gasping audience. (“Ta-Dah!”)

But, realistically, we know the Drape is there to stay. It’s mainly a printed image, with the 3D folds cast in lightweight concrete. And so we will wait forever for the big reveal.

The ground-floor concourse is an indoor/outdoor environment that makes the most of Queensland’s subtropical climate. On the corner is a café open to theatre-goers and passers by.

The Drape is pinned up here and there where the Grey Street footpath joins the concourse. If you look up in the right place, you can glimpse the foyers above.

But nothing is revealed through those vistas. There’s just Yves Klein Blue-ness—the blue of the chroma key screen, that digital backdrop onto which anything can be projected for filmmaking.

There’s nothing on yet. It’s the Blue of waiting, of anticipation.

However, there are props—stage elements for people to sit on. The people are unconscious of their roles as actors for a Russell Street audience, and therefore enact an aleatoric storyline. They mingle and lounge among vivid coral-like furnishings in a subtropical reef of Klein Blue.

In this building, we slip away from the normalcy of the day to day. It’s common for theatres to allude to other-worldly so, here, coral inspires richness through colour, form and pattern in the textiles, furniture and fitments, lining and acoustic elements.

There’s also coral in the auditorium. Coral is random in configuration—it can be shaped like anything. It is the perfect visual theme for a 3D acoustic surface because it can be  tweaked, truncated or extended, symmetrical or not, to optimise the acoustic result.

Apart from acoustic practicalities, the auditorium deserves to be lavish: to be a worthy vessel for grand opera, classical ballet, over-the-top music theatre. Rich art forms. Queensland’s reef coral too is lavish and rich.

The proscenium curtain is an opportunity for a commissioned artwork.

So that’s what’s inside.

And now, do we still yearn for an answer to the mystery of the drape? Its detail remains forever in the future, and now satiated by richness and theatricality, we will perhaps enjoy our imagination, speculation and assumptions about what lies beneath the drape.