Modernist and Heritage Conservationist: Karl Langer’s Contribution to the Heritage Movement in Queensland

Gardiner, Fiona

Ngā Pūtahitanga / Crossings: A Joint Conference of SAHANZ and the Australasian UHPH Group

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Karl Langer (1903-1969), architect, town planner, landscape architect and academic fled Austria for Australia, settling in Brisbane in 1939. Required to spend the Second World War as a draftsman with Queensland Railways Department and denied a planning position with the Brisbane City Council, Langer commenced private practice (1946-1969). His significant influence on Queensland’s built environment is now belatedly being recognised and has resulted in the recent publication of Karl Langer: Modern Architect and Migrant in the Australian Tropics.

This paper explores Langer’s contribution to the establishment of the heritage movement, as an early member of the National Trust of Queensland. Like many of his contemporaries, in Australia and overseas, he was both a modernist and a conservationist. Langer joined the Trust in 1964, its first year of operation, and was deeply involved when it acquired its first property in 1965. The property Wolston House is an 1852 stone farmhouse on the suburban fringes of Brisbane. He gave architectural advice on the physical condition of the building and prepared landscape plans for the grounds. He was a member of the restoration and appeal committees and prepared the artwork for the fundraising brochure. Before the term ‘adaptive reuse’ had currency, Langer advised the Trust on converting the 1870s bedroom annex into a caretaker’s residence and coffee shop. The annex was unceremoniously demolished, but Langer, the sophisticated European modernist, was at the heart of an early debate about conservation. Langer represented Queensland on the Australian Council of National Trusts committee which deliberated on classifications and criteria by which the heritage value of buildings would be determined. He contributed to the establishment of the early lists of historic Queensland buildings and wrote a paper on the conservation of landscape in urban areas. Langer’s unexpected death in 1969 meant that his influence on the nascent heritage movement in Queensland was foundational but is largely forgotten or misinterpreted. His legacy remains in his surviving buildings, eight of which are now heritage listed.