Queensland urban design principles

QDesign is a set of 9 principles developed by the Office of the Queensland Government Architect to help create an urban environment that:

  • is well made
  • improves the quality of life for all
  • is distinctly Queensland.


  • guides design, development, and decision-making to improve the quality of built form in Queensland
  • provides a common and consistent language of 'urban design' to enable all aspects of development—across government, planning, architecture, landscape, infrastructure, engineering, economics and the community—to share a simple set of priority principles for good urban design outcomes across Queensland.

Download the QDesign Manual (PDF, 8.7MB) or read the web version below.

Step 1 - Work with context

Understand and work with local climate, existing place character and community values.

Great places, the places that people enjoy living and working in, respond to and reflect a deep appreciation of the qualities and distinctive characteristics of their context. The first 3 principles guide design and development to consider carefully the climatic, cultural and ecological qualities of place, to establish strong foundations for the delivery of responsive design that values the distinctive qualities of place.


Buildings, streets and spaces should be designed to work with and respond to the local climate.

Their design should work positively with the local climate to create places that are resource efficient and deliver climate-resilient, comfortable and cost-effective living.


  • Take advantage of the local climate and adopt passive design strategies to significantly reduce or eliminate the need for mechanical and electrical systems, using natural elements such as sunlight and breezes to heat, cool and light buildings.
  • Maximise natural light. Apply design strategies to maximise natural light in habitable spaces, reducing reliance on artificial lighting, improving amenity for occupants and reducing energy demand.
  • Reduce the extremes of temperature. Use building layout design and architectural features, such as hoods, louvres, screens, awnings and hard and soft landscape elements to reduce the extremes of temperature and urban heat island effect in buildings, streets and spaces.
  • Use moveable elements—maximise comfort opportunities. Use movable elements such as adjustable openings and sliding screens, allowing occupants to manually control the temperature, shading and comfort of their environment.


Buildings, streets and spaces provide opportunities to reflect the distinctive qualities of a place by identifying landscape, heritage and cultural assets worthy of protection, and working with these to enhance local place identity.


  • Map the valued assets (landscape, heritage and culture) and work with these features to create places with a strong relationship to their context.
  • Work with the natural topography of the area to minimise requirements for cut and fill, and create development that contributes positively to the environmental and visual experience of a place.
  • Interpret locally distinct building traditions. Work with and interpret locally distinct building traditions, materials and craftsmanship to create development that draws on local practices and physical qualities.
  • Create contributory community value by understanding the characteristics, traditions and values of the local community, and explore opportunities to work with these, and extend benefits beyond the development site boundary and back into the community.


Buildings, streets and spaces enable the protection and enhancement of established ecologies and hydrological systems, delivering a connected network of working landscapes that contribute to community health and the health and liveability of the environment.


  • Work with established ecological and hydrological systems to improve urban biodiversity and create a 'working landscape' of connected green corridors and waterways.
  • Apply best practice Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) in the design of buildings, streets and spaces, working with established topography to sustainably manage surface water run-off at the source and deliver improved biodiversity, landscape amenity and recreational facilities.
  • Conserve and protect healthy trees, plants of scale and significant species as valuable community assets.
  • Ensure there is adequate space for vegetation. Provide areas of deep soil for planting along street frontages and within communal gardens to ensure there is adequate space for vegetation—trees and shrubs—to grow and thrive into maturity.

Step 2 - Establish a strong structure

Establish a strong structure—establish a clear and connected urban structure in which detail design can happen.

Successful places are great places to live. They support a rich mix of everyday community and business needs and offer variety and choice in housing, education and employment for the whole community. Great places are well connected and well structured, they provide the built and recreational infrastructure required by the community over time. Principles 4 through 7 provide a step by step consideration of the key structuring elements of place.

Create a walkable network of streets and public spaces that are well connected, safe and attractive and provide a platform for diverse community interactions and commercial activity.


  • Part of a well-connected network. Work with existing streets and spaces to create places that are part of a well-connected network with simple and direct links.
  • A range of street and space scales. Deliver a range of street and space scales that easily and comfortably accommodate the needs of all users - pedestrians first, cyclists and then vehicles.
  • Fit for purpose. Design streets and spaces to be fit for purpose, reflecting their role within the wider urban context.
  • Provide shade and shelter. Use appropriate vegetation, large trees and awnings in public spaces and along street to provide shade and shelter for pedestrians and cyclists.

Buildings, streets and spaces should be inclusive, providing liveable and diverse housing choices and supporting the daily needs of a diverse community, including the young and old.


  • Offer choice, diversity and mix. All development, no matter the scale, should offer choice, diversity and mix to ensure a vibrant and socially diverse community is supported.
  • Make mixed use viable. Ensure complementary and contrasting land uses are well located and that residential and commercial densities are appropriate and make mixed use viable.
  • Easily accessible. Ensure that the community's daily needs are easily accessible by providing a safe environment that promotes walking and active mobility for all.
  • Create 'life on the street'. Use the ground floor of buildings to create 'life on the street' by clearly addressing the adjacent street or space, delivering a sense of safety, community ownership and activation.
  • Prioritise the needs of children and the elderly. Create places that respond to the diverse needs of society, in particular, prioritise the needs of children and the elderly. If proposed housing options, land-use activities, parks, streets and transport options respond to the specific needs of the young and the elderly, it is more likely to accommodate the whole community throughout life.
  • Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). Ensure places benefit from the application of 'Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design' principles to lessen or prevent crime and increase the sense of safety of an area.


Buildings, streets and spaces should be designed to create attractive, human-scale places, and deliver diverse and well-integrated development mixes that successfully blend the old and the new.


  • Respond to human scale. Create buildings, streets and spaces that respond to human scale, establishing a walkable urban structure and opportunities for a fine-grain urban form.
  • Vary development density. Use diverse development block sizes, building heights and typologies, to vary development density and avoid the creation of featureless and monotonous scale places.
  • Create buildings that contribute to the quality and character of the street. Building forms and massing should be used to define streets. Their scale should be used to establish a clear street structure and hierarchy. Windows, terraces, balconies and principal entrances should be designed to contribute to the character and activation of the street, supporting local business and residential activity and positively contributing to a safe and vibrant street life.
  • Work well with their neighbours. New buildings should work well with their neighbours and respect their local context. This does not mean new development must mimic its neighbour but does require new development to be considered in the way it acknowledges and responds to its neighbour. This approach provides opportunities to use material choice and building massing to ensure development of different scales are well integrated.
  • Prioritise occupant amenity. Consider building performance and prioritise occupant amenity through the articulation of building massing, height and forms.


Buildings, streets and spaces should be designed to have inbuilt flexibility and able to change easily to accommodate new uses, and users in the long term.


  • Locally sourced. Provide facilities to enable communities to be more resilient and self-sufficient embedding opportunities for food to be home grown and water and energy to be locally sourced.
  • Create flexible buildings, streets and spaces that are capable of adapting to new uses and user needs over time.
  • Whole of life homes. Create places capable of accommodating individual needs through whole of life homes, adopting 'Universal Design' principles to specifically address the needs of children, older people and people with disabilities.
  • Resource efficient, durable and low maintenance. Design places to be resource efficient, durable and low maintenance to reduce energy demand and therefore costs in construction and maintenance in the long term.

Step 3 - Demonstrate leadership

Demonstrate leadership – deliver best practice and lead the market to deliver delight.

To create better solutions and meet the urban challenges of the future, innovation and collaboration are important. Innovation requires a supportive culture of risk taking and requires communities to understand and value opportunity that change in their neighbourhoods can bring. The final 2 principles address the need to embed a collaborative and interdisciplinary culture throughout the design, development and delivery process, and the power of effective engagement.


Establish, embed and sustain a culture of innovation and collaborative problem solving to ensure project opportunities and stated ambitions are physically delivered.


  • Lead by example and embed strategies to enhance the community value of the project during the design and development process, and the delivery stages of the project.
  • A culture of collaboration. Good urban design requires many different disciplines to work together, to achieve an aligned project vision and deliver integrated solutions over extended time frames. This requires a culture of collaboration and interdisciplinary professional working to be an embedded priority of the project.
  • Value and define design excellence. Contemporary urban challenges are complex and require the application of excellence in design thinking to achieve sustainable outcomes. Establish project priorities and goals that value and define design excellence and use these as key performance indicators to drive project results and as a continual check to assess project performance.
  • Use established industry benchmark such as GreenStar and Greenstar Communities rating tools to target best practice and demonstrate innovation. Brisbane City Council have led by producing a comprehensive guideline publication.


Establish a clear strategy to understand, appropriately engage and meaningfully involve local communities and relevant key stakeholders.


  • Develop a plan for community engagement. There are many ways in which communities can participate in the design and development process. This often depends on the project locations and scale. Develop a plan for community engagement early in the project to determine the appropriate type, scope and timing of the engagement process.
  • Be clear. To manage expectations, be clear with the community from the beginning. Clarify the aims and objectives of the engagement process, the scope of community involvement and the method for decision making.
  • Involve the right people. To ensure a robust engagement process is in place that involves the right people in the most effective way, take time to understand and involve relevant representation from the local community, important organisations and other key stakeholders.
  • Improve project understanding. Good design is an iterative process requiring a continuous cycle of rigorous fact finding, analysis and problem solving, with inputs from a broad mix of disciplines. Generate a record of this process and share key outcomes and project influences with the community to show how development decisions have been made and improve project understanding.

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