The love affair with neon signs is enduring for certain Queensland architects, especially when the signs are located in prime entertainment precincts.
We spoke to Paul Curran of Push Architecture who designed the signs for the two popular Brisbane cinemas complexes – the Palace Centro and Palace Barracks.
The striking Palace Centro sign in New Farm was commissioned in the 1990s illuminating the rooftop with the distinct Romanesque type face logo in vermillion, while the Palace Barracks sign and neon ribbon was completed in 2010 when Paul’s firm was working on the building fit out and signage design.
Paul said he chose neon as a medium because of its powerful association with entertainment and cinema; nostalgia was another key factor.
“Neon is such a good medium for creating that strong presence in those entertainment precincts. Growing up, I remember the neon signs of the Gold Coast. The fun signage that is ingrained in your memory and which you associate with good times,” said Paul.
Neon signs in Queensland were predominantly used to attract passing business particularly on the Gold Coast, as motels, hotels, clubs and restaurants competed with each other to get that tourist dollar.
When speaking about the Palace Barracks sign, Paul said he wanted to give the Arkhefield-designed building a visibility on Petrie Terrace, designing it so it was recognisable to motorists approaching the busy precinct from the William Jolly Bridge.
“I told Andrew Gutteridge (Principal at Arkhefield) that the Barracks’ neon sign would be as large as the one on the brewery on Milton Road. He was worried about the neon until he saw the final, much smaller design,” said Paul.
The commissioning of large illuminated signs is not as common as it once was, due to stringent council regulations especially for commercial character buildings and heritage places. Gone are the days of enormous neon signs protruding from the side of nearly every city building back in neon’s prime of 1930’s Brisbane.
Designers of new neon signs are required to jump through a number of regulatory hoops to get their signs approved. According to neon sign maker Michael Blazek, the size and the brightness of neon can be a determining factor in council approval processes for the signs.
“Because the CBD in Brisbane and many of our outlying urban centres have seen huge increases in high-rise apartments, some of these are now in direct site of prime neon sign locations. This has led to complaints from apartment owners that the signs are too bright and stay lit past a reasonable hour,” explained Michael.
“The council has placed restrictions on all illuminated signs to fit an acceptable illumination level and has restricted hours of operation depending where the signs are located in an attempt for neon signs and residents to co-exist harmoniously.”
Despite this Michael said he has seen a revival in the use of smaller neon signs for restaurants, bars and clubs.
“I recently made a number of signs in the King Street district near the RNA showgrounds which is being developed as a new entertainment precinct.”
“Here, the developer Lend Lease, sought to include iconic neon images by commissioning the Ekka Sundae animated neon, by refurbishing the old Royal Snack Bar neon and metal letters in an updated flamingo hue, and by commissioning a new neon artwork, the twin kookaburras by Reko Rennie,” said Michael.
“These works were all placed where their marketing impact would be maximised with minimal distraction to the apartment owners in the precinct.”
There is no denying the alluring glow of neon and its power to attract attention. A twilight stroll through Brisbane’s inner city entertainment areas sees many buildings still aglow with neon thanks to architects like Paul and neon sign makers like Michael.