Lady Bown Building – Brisbane

Duration: 40 Weeks

Originally established in 1864 and relocated to the current site in 1890, Diamantina House is located in Spring hill – on the city’s fringe. In 2005, the Queensland Government committed $30 million over four years to redevelopment of the historic Lady Bowen Complex, with restoration scheduled for completion in late 2009. The Lady Bowen Complex was developed in three stages and was carefully designed to ensure the buildings onsite retained their heritage value. Each stage provides a range of accommodation and support services to assist people in housing need.

JM Kelly Builders was awarded the contract to complete the design and construction of heritage-listed Diamantina House. Refurbishment posed significant dificulties with both buildability and conformity to Heritage Listing.


Craftsman-level skill and knowledge were integral to successful completion of this project. Practices unused for many decades needed to be refreshed and utilised to maintain the inherent character of the building.

The challenge of supplying skills to the project involved sourcing a range of tradesmen. Bricklayers skilled in laying English bond, glaziers competent in sealing with putty, and ceiling installers skilled in pressed metal ceilings were just a few of the skilled trades needed for successful completion of the project.

Procurement skills were also needed to source products long since lost to the construction industry… such as cast iron fret-work. It was here that the blend of internet technology and skills of earlier years met to assist in the restoration and re-establishment of history.

Management of the Project

Being a Design & Construct project, challenges arose in establishing a suitable environment within the requirements of the brief, while keeping the building template so as to meet Heritage requirements.

The project was delivered as a lump-sum contract, with the design phase being a separate component to construction. The contract period was extended from an initial 48 weeks to a total of 60 weeks, accommodating additional work and fit-out to the offices. The contract period was impacted by contract delays for inclement weather and latent conditions. All works were completed within the revised contract period – a direct result of the professional relationship established and maintained between both builder and client.

A final contract budget of $5.8m met the client’s expectations for the project, producing a favourable outcome for all parties.

Innovation and Challenges

The heritage-listed status of the building meant that a refurbishment project needed to maintain the building template. The design process took over seven months to deliver a fit-for-purpose result that reflected and highlighted the 19th Century architecture.

To bring this building up to mandatory building regulations, a lift was required to be installed within the existing structure. This stipulation created unique design challenges (lift over-runs and landing levels) incorporating all aspects within a heritage building without alteration to the roof structure.

The biggest challenge of this project was posed by bathrooms to be supplied into the existing building. Heritage listing created limitations on flooring able to be removed. Pods were created within each room, allowing a new suspended floor for each individual bathroom with falls and waste services situated above the existing Heritage floors. This design delivered segregation of living areas from kitchens and amenities.
Through construction, pre-existing onsite environmental safety issues – asbestos and lead paint – needed to be addressed. The need to deal with these materials safely and effectively, maintaining respect for the Heritage aspect of the building required additional skill and planning than would normally be anticipated.

Cleaning of existing brickwork was undertaken using non-abrasive methods so as to protect the aging and decaying surface of the masonry. Inconsistencies within these bricks required additional attention and at times alternate processes needed to be used to achieve the desired outcome.

The heritage colour scheme used was colour-sourced from existing paint chips recovered from site; the challenge was to secure samples of sufficient size and colour clarity to allow a colour match to be achieved.

Midway through construction, on advice from an independent arborist, it became necessary to remove a substantial tree from the front of the site. JM Kelly chose to propagate seeds from this tree and have successfully planted a tree that is a direct descendant of the original. This approach was acknowledged and commended by the current Minister for Public Works.

Amenities and Aesthetics

Diamantina House was originally constructed as a public building; for the past decade she had remained derelict and in decay. Once again Diamantina House serves the public and offers a historical glimpse of Brisbane settlement.

The building and the site gives credit to her namesake Lady Diamantina Bowen, wife of the then Queensland Governor.