The Gold Coast's Q1 apartment building takes minimalism to new levels, writes Bruce Elder.
The problem with this place," said the photographer as he departed from Q1 to head down the road to a much more modest motel, "is that there's no artwork in the foyers and public areas."
Trust a photographer to think of the aesthetics, I thought, wondering whether his jaundiced assessment wasn't tinged with just a hint of jealousy as I settled into Q1 for a four-night stay.
Over the next four days, I had to concede that his aesthetic impulse was right.
Q1, which opened in November, is the latest super-development on the Gold Coast. It has been the subject of endless, and florid, eulogies. At 77 storeys (the brochure actually says "80 levels of luxury living" but that seems to include the air-conditioning units and the observation deck, where no one lives), it is, according to its publicity, the world's tallest residential tower.
And it has managed to rope in Ian Thorpe - how more iconic do they get? - who has declared: "I am passionate about architecture and design. I enjoy being able to appreciate the finer details of buildings around the world, to look at and understand their different styles, and appreciate that some are true pieces of art and monuments to their time."
Staying at Q1, it is easy to wonder whether Thorpe's enthusiasm and his appreciation of "the finer details of buildings" isn't the rich reward one gets from swimming backwards and forwards in chlorinated water for most of your life. The photographer is right. The swimmer is wrong.
You know something is amiss when a hotel/resort/accommodation option/apartment block, which claims to be five-star luxury, doesn't even bother to have someone at the door to welcome you or ensure your bags make an effortless journey to your room.
You know something is amiss when you enter the foyer and there, as the photographer suggests, in front of you is a huge grey wall that looks as if it has been designed by some refugee from a 1960s Eastern European housing project.
You know something is amiss when the reservations counter looks like something out of The Matrix or Blade Runner - all asceticism, a style so minimal they could have replaced it with a folding card table and bar stool and no one would have noticed.
You know something is amiss when the floor of the foyer is a matching grey - so drab this might well be the Tax Office in Canberra - and that every time you walk through the foyer (and you do a lot of walking through the foyer if you stay for four nights) there is either some hapless cleaner trying to inject some beauty into the dour ugliness or there are little wet footmarks made by children who have just come from the swimming pool and paddled their way to the lifts.
And you know something is really amiss when, even though it is not full summer on the Gold Coast, the lift lobby air-conditioning (if it exists) is not working and every time you move from the lifts to your apartment you score a sauna - no charge.
The whole ethos of Q1 is raw, unforgiving minimalism. The hotel/resort foyer has two red couches and a couple of tables and chairs in a vast open space with huge windows. The apartments are so minimal that even the wall art (it mightn't exist in the public areas, but there is some in the apartments) is so minimal it makes a white wall look rococo.
And the balconies? Well, where I stayed on floor 26, they were internal. Glass doors could be pushed back to open the bedroom onto the balcony (whoops, the "winter garden") and the only furniture on the balcony/winter garden was two white, good-quality plastic chairs. How minimal is that?
And are the apartments selling? What's that old line about hot cakes? Most have been sold. The price list, early last month, listed some three-bedroom apartments (247 square metres) on the wrong side of $2 million, a few two-bedroom apartments (159 square metres) for about $900,000 and some one-bedroom apartments for resale for $500,000 to $600,000.
The consensus is there is huge interest from people in southern Queensland. This raises a fascinating truth about Gold Coast real estate: new is good, old is bad. People will hand over vast amounts of money for the newest and the latest but, once a building has been up for a few years, the relative increase in property values really slows down and tapers off and the returns can be quite modest.
But all is not lost. There are two things, only peripherally connected, that are truly wonderful about Q1. First, the ground-floor restaurant, Absynthe, run by the French chef Meyjitte Boughenout, would, if it could be reviewed by The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide, comfortably weigh in at about two hats and score 16 or 17 out of 20.
In Surfers Paradise it is, indeed, a rare wonder to read a wine list featuring most of the Grange vintages and an entree of sevruga caviar for a cool $220, and passionately devoted to the proposition that the food and wine are everything. Congratulate the Q1 developers. They headhunted Boughenout and in one stroke raised the standard of cuisine on the whole Gold Coast.
Second, the building's observation deck is a wonder to behold. It offers a feast of views of the coast, the ocean and the hinterland, and the Sky Bar, run by the urbane Fouad Eid, not only serves Illy coffee but has a Q1 signature cake, a multi-layered vanilla omelet sponge, with chocolate nougat truffle cream, homemade orange candy, rum and raisins, roasted pistachios and walnut Florentine crackling all standing like an imitation of the building itself. In one culinary act, it seems to sum up the entire region.
Another Gold Coast developer, Sean Juniper, happily sings the praises of Q1, declaring that it was the first of its kind. He explains that it was - and this is amazing, but seems to be true - the first residential high rise on the Gold Coast without balconies and it set a benchmark for the new development at Surfers Paradise. Which is why, at this moment, Juniper is building a 77-storey residential building called Soul (apartments start at $1.5 million).
Yes, there really are people who are happy to pay $1.5 million to say "I live in Soul. Not Seoul, stupid. Soul, on the Gold Coast! You know, James Brown and all that stuff. Real Soul."
"But," I ask, "are people really going to pay $1.5 million to live in Soul in Surfers Paradise? What about the white-shoe brigade? The meter maids? What about schoolies week and the schoolies?"
Juniper looks at me and grins: "I always say that today's schoolies are tomorrow's investors."