Kinkabool & Paradise Towers with 60’s skyline – Photo Gold Coast Nostalgia

The Gold Coast is renowned for its stunning beaches, lush hinterland, and vibrant urban culture. It’s a place that has seen tremendous growth over the years, and this transformation is best exemplified by the evolution of its early high-rise buildings during the 1960s and 1970s. These decades marked a significant turning point in the city’s history as it transitioned from a quiet seaside resort to a bustling metropolis. With over 30,000 new apartments and flats approved in these decades, mostly in Surfers Paradise, this was certainly a boom period on the coast.

In the post war 1950’s, Australians enjoyed greater prosperity and the capacity to pursue leisure activities. The rise in private car ownership, and the growing preference among holidaymakers for American-style resorts, resulted in a dramatic change in the way we holidayed. It saw a transition away from the traditional communal beach holiday accommodation options of the past which included camping or caravanning, or residing in guest and boarding houses. We’ve detailed this evolution of early Gold Coast accommodation previously in our earlier blog post, Gold Coast Architecture 20th Century Today.

At that time the Gold Coast’s skyline was still predominantly low-rise, characterised by modest hotels, motels, and holiday flats. However, the city’s potential as a tourist destination was clear. With an increased demand for accommodation, developers saw the opportunity to build taller structures that not only offered more rooms but also panoramic views of the city’s coastline.

Stanley Korman an entrepreneur from Melbourne, was one of the first to realise this potential. He believed the Gold Coast as an ideal destination for southerners to fly into for a quick weekend getaway. In the late 50’s he developed the five-storey Lennon’s Hotel in Broadbeach, the three-storey Chevron Hotel in Surfers Paradise, and Paradise Island.

Lennons Hotel 1956                                                                          Chevron Hotel 1958

It was at this time in 1958 when the South Coast Town Council was renamed the Gold Coast Town Council, and in 1959 it was proclaimed a City – Australia’s first without a Cathedral.

Without the benefit of soaring church belltowers or spires, the new Gold Coast City instead embraced the high-rise tower.

Kinkabool 1959-60

In 1959 the first tower commenced construction, the 10 storey Kinkabool.

This was a game-changer in terms of urban development and was followed by a collection of towers including The Sands, Paradise Towers, Garfield Towers, Suntower, Panorama and River Park Towers.

This video provides an interesting commentary on some of these early high-rise buildings.

These original towers were all built in Surfers Paradise between 1964 and 1969, a prosperous period of growth when the Gold Coast doubled in size.

The evolution of these high-rise buildings wasn’t just about adding height to the skyline. It also marked a shift in architectural styles. Early high-rises had a distinct modernist aesthetic, featuring clean straight lines, flat roofs and an absence or ornamentation, emphasised by the extensive use of concrete, glass, and steel.

This mid-century modernist styling also influenced the domestic architecture of that era and is currently having a major resurgence in popularity, not only on the Gold Coast, but all around the world.

Similarly, the older Motels that were the precursor to these apartment towers are also undergoing a renaissance as we’ve highlighted previously in our Let’s Go Retro blog post.

Suntower 1968

Other influences on these early tower designs included English modernism as derived from that country’s extensive post-war reconstruction efforts and the work of internationally renowned modern architects like Mies van der Rohe.

The resort architecture of Hawaii and Miami was also reflected in these new towers.

The focus was on maximising space, capturing views, and ensuring a comfortable living experience for residents and guests.

Panorama Towers 1969

In the subtropical environment of the Gold Coast, where the heat and humidity during the summer holiday periods can be oppressive, providing a cool and comfortable living environment for tourists staying in these new high-rise units was paramount.

Rather than utilising air conditioning that was still an expensive luxury at the time, practical design principles were adopted instead.

Panorama & River Park Towers – Examples of dumbbell planning

Many of these early high-rise buildings incorporated a “dumbbell” plan form within a simple rectalinear floor plate. This consisted of larger units at each end separated by a central service and circulation core which housed the lifts and exit staircase(s) at the rear, with smaller units in front.

This allowed the end units to have most rooms adjoining one of the 3 external facades ensuring good natural light and cross ventilation. The shallower central units in front of the service core also had some access to cross ventilation via the open-air staircases behind.

Paradise Towers       

Another method of creating cross ventilation opportunities was to create an open air central atrium with units located around the perimeter. This was the approach adopted by Paradise Towers.

Horizontal banding was also a defining characteristic of these buildings with external balconies either recessed or cantilevered creating contrasts of light and shade and weather protection to the units below.

The Sands 1964

This style became synonymous with the Gold Coast’s early high-rises, giving them a unique character that blended functionality and aesthetics.

These original high-rise towers and the many others that have followed played a pivotal role in transforming the Gold Coast into the vibrant city it is today. They not only met the growing demand for accommodation but also contributed to the city’s reputation as a leading domestic tourist destination.

Many of these high-rise towers are still standing, albeit amidst a backdrop of newer, larger, taller, and more glamorous skyscrapers which now overshadow them and dominate our skyline. Whilst they’ve had their day in the sun, many are now suffering the ravages of time with “concrete cancer” and future redevelopment opportunities threatening their very existence.

Suntower dwarfed by newer surrounding high-rise

As the Gold Coast continues to grow and many of these older buildings are eventually demolished to make way for the next generation of high-rise, we should all appreciate the contribution that they have made to shaping our city and its identity.


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