Evolution of the Gold Coast Skyline

Written: 17 April 2019, Updated: 17 April 2019

Famous as a world-class holiday destination and the party capital of Australia, the Gold Coast has grown over the last 40 years to become Australia’s largest non-capital city. We look at the evolution of the skyline from humble beach shacks to some of the most sought-after property in the country.

Looking back on images of what the Gold Coast looked like in the 1970s is sure to stir nostalgia in most Queenslanders — especially those who have similar photos of their own drifting around in old photo albums or keepsake boxes. From family beach homes to sky-high apartment towers, to say the Gold Coast skyline has transformed in the last 40 years would be an understatement. Where once you could purchase a small shack and block of land for $65,000 now sits luxury towers with hundreds of million dollar apartments.

Last edition, we took a look at the Brisbane skyline and its evolution since 1930 (now up on our website for you to peruse). Upon its completion this year, Brisbane Skytower will be the first building in the river city to reach the aviation-enforced ceiling of 275 metres. When it comes to the Gold Coast, there is no aviation-inforced ceiling in place. For new developments, the sky really is the limit.

The Gold Coast holds a slew of special titles when it comes to skyscrapers, the majority of which can be attributed to Q1. Even though construction on Q1 finished over ten years ago, it still retains the rank of not only ‘Tallest Building on the Gold Coast’ but also ‘Tallest Building in Australia’. Q1 tops out at an astonishing 322.5 metres from base to tip of the spire. Short for Queensland Number One, this striking building also claims the title of the sixth-tallest residential building in the world, behind 432 Park Avenue in New York and four skyscrapers in Dubai.

Before its completion in 2005, the title of the tallest building on the Gold Coast belonged to the 158-metre Skyline North Tower. With dozens of new developments now stretching into the sky from Surfers to Palm Beach, this once title-holding building now sits at 11 on the tallest building list. Next on the list sits iconic Gold Coast towers like Circle on Cavil, The Hilton and Soul. The recently completed Jewel Hotel takes out the number seven spot, with a height of 170 metres. However, its visual contribution to the skyline of Surfers Paradise is much more significant. With the North Tower sitting at 144 metres, and Jewel Beach Tower at 124, these three architecturally-striking buildings located right on the beach front really are a jewel in the crown of the Gold Coast.

Currently under construction is Ocean, which will also form a notable addition to the skyline upon its completion. The Ocean tower will sit at 257.8 metres when construction concludes in 2020. While not yet approved, another mixed-use hotel development, Orion Towers, will give even Q1 a run for its money if it proceeds. Current plans set the completed building height to 328.1 metres, awarding Orion Towers the title of ‘tallest building on the Gold Coast’ by just 6.5 metres.

Surfers Paradise, 2012
Surfers Paradise, 2012
Surfers Paradise 1978, Image by Stephen Fleay.
Surfers Paradise 1978, Image by Stephen Fleay.
Surfers Paradise, 2012
Surfers Paradise 1978, Image by Stephen Fleay.

Looking back at images from a mere 40 years ago goes to show that it’s not just the biggest and tallest buildings that can change the skyline. The Gold Coast has seen vast changes in the very structure of the area, from beachfront shanty homes to multi-billion-dollar skyscrapers lining every block. It would be tempting to ask when this amazing transformation will stagnate, but it is clear to locals, tourists and big businesses alike that this growth isn’t slowing down any time soon and is expected to continue well into the foreseeable future.

So what’s driving all of this development? It’s no secret that many of the large-scale projects on the Gold Coast are spearheaded by Chinese investment. With big visions (and hefty bank accounts to make it happen), it’s not the first time The Glitter Strip has seen an influx of international developers. Much like the Japenese investment throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Chinese investment in the Gold Coast is prone to controversy. The latest run of projects developed by overseas conglomerates is no exception, with countless headlines revealing issues with builders, materials, pushed-back schedules and entire projects put on hold seemingly inevitably. That said, it’s this overseas investment that keeps the Gold Coast growing and developing at such a phenomenal rate.

According to the Emporis Skyline Ranking, which ranks global cities by the visual impact of their skylines, the Gold Coast skyline is the 86th most impressive skyline across the world, beating out Brisbane (which doesn’t appear at all in the Top 100 list). For comparison, Sydney comes in at 66 and Melbourne at a notable 35.

Burleigh heads, 2012
Burleigh heads, 2012
Burleigh heads 1978, Image by Stephen Fleay.
Burleigh heads 1978, Image by Stephen Fleay.
Burleigh heads, 2012
Burleigh heads 1978, Image by Stephen Fleay.

While it’s still a long way from the top of the list, the Gold Coast skyline remains significant simply because of the speed of the evolution. With this upwards trajectory set to continue for decades to come, the skyscrapers aren’t expected to be contained to Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach alone. High-density residential developments are also being proposed and approved for the southern Gold Coast suburbs of Burleigh Heads and Palm Beach too. It seems that the world can not get enough of the famous Gold Coast sunshine, surf and sand.

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