Being close to the town centre, Spring Hill developed as the town developed with fashionable, more expensive houses on the ridgeline above Brisbane Town and cheaper housing on the lower slopes and gullies. As the town spread in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, newer suburbs further out attracted development and Spring Hill was, by the early twentieth century, crowded, a bit run-down and cheap. In the postwar era, as prosperity returned in the 1950s and 1960s, a wave of new development swept the city. Young professionals and artists were attracted to Spring Hill as it was close to the city centre and the suburb experienced somewhat of a revival and the beginnings of gentrification.
The increased frequency and affordability of international travel also had an impact as Australia became a destination and new international style hotels were built. In Brisbane, the traditional corner hotels lacked the facilities and accommodation standards required by the growing modern tourist market. In the 1960s a number of new hotels were built, with the Tower Mill Motel being one of the first and an outstanding example of the new modern international style.
The site of the motel was previously occupied by a doctor’s surgery in-keeping with the development of Wickham Street over time as the location of private hospitals and specialist clinics. The site was purchased by Chacewater Pty Ltd who applied in November 1964 to build a seventy unit motel designed by architect, Stephen Trotter, estimated to cost £285,000.
Stephen Trotter was born in Brisbane in 1930 and trained in the offices of Mervyn Rylance and Fulton and Collin. He gained a Diploma of Architecture (Qld) in 1954 and became a registered architect in 1955. He started in practice as an associate of Fulton and Collin in 1958. His time with Mervyn Rylance, who specialized in Old English designs, instilled in Trotter a desire to design buildings that responded to the sub-tropical climate of Brisbane. In 1962 John Gillmour, Stephen Trotter and Graham Boys became partners in the firm. Influenced by the new international styles being constructed overseas and the new engineering technologies being developed after the war, Stephen Trotter successfully applied for a Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA) Sisalkraft Scholarship in 1962. His application included the design of the Tower Mill Motel in his portfolio of works as an indication of his desire to study design responses to climatic conditions. Trotter’s whirlwind three-month tour of the world resulted in a study entitled “Cities in the Sun” which identified the elements of design relating to hot, dry; hot wet, warm wet and warm dry climates in the subcontinent, Persia, Oceania, South America, North America and Europe.
The Tower Mill Motel features a striking circular form, distinctive concrete sun-shading and a restaurant on the top floor. The circular form and roof detailing mirror the circular form and detailing of the diminutive historic windmill tower across the road. Embracing the new design technologies of the international style, the Tower Mill Motel features expressed concrete floor plates and columns and concrete awnings shading the full height glazed walls. It is completely different from the international style hotels being built in the city at this time which, although featuring curtain walls and full height glazing, generally adhered to a rectangular footprint and identical room layouts.
Stephen Trotter remained as a partner of Fulton, Collin, Boys, Gilmour and Trotter until 1999. During this period he taught architecture at the Queensland Institute of Technology (QIT now QUT), instilling an understanding of the importance of the environment and energy efficiency in building design to a generation of architecture students. As well as lecturing at QIT for nineteen years, Trotter was involved in the Queensland Chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects for a number of years. Trotter retired from Fulton Trotter in 1999, however his sons Mark and Paul are now directors. Stephen Trotter also made an outstanding contribution to the University of Queensland residential college, International House, for over sixty years and he was made a Fellow in November 2011. Stephen Trotter passed away on 30 July 2015, aged 84.
The Tower Mill Motel was completed in 1964 and went on to become a destination for overseas visitors. In 1971 the motel hosted the Springbok rugby union team during the Brisbane leg of their Australian tour. The Springboks were an all-white rugby union team from South Africa that symbolised the apartheid regime of the country which excluded black South Africans from all citizenship rights. The UN General Assembly had urged a sporting boycott against South Africa in 1968 which was ignored by Australian authorities. In an era when an awareness of the inequalities of race and gender was growing and the subject of civil unrest and protests, the motel became the location of civil libertarians’ protests against apartheid. On the night of 22 July 400 protestors, mainly university students, lecturers and Aboriginal Australians, gathered to protest, but were confronted by 500 police who had been given State of Emergency powers suspending all civil liberties for a month, by the Bjelke-Petersen government. The subsequent brutal treatment of the protestors, who included future Queensland premiers and leading political figures such as Peter Beattie, Wayne Goss, Matt Foley, George Georges and Bill Hayden not only triggered future protests but ensured that the actual game was poorly attended.
The protest at the Tower Mill Motel became a “defining moment and watershed experience” which evoked anger at the politicisation of the Queensland police service, particularly the use of Special Branch as a Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s “secret army” and a determination to see blatant inequalities revoked.
The outstanding innovative design of the Tower Mill Motel, not only is a unique example of a 1960s cyclindrical building that is sensitively designed to respond to the site and climate, but an icon of a revolutionary era which saw established regimes questioned and the new cultural standards introduced. The hotel was subdivided for 107 strata titled units in December 2002 with some being sold into private ownership and some being retained for use as hotel rooms. A recent change in ownership has seen the purchase of a number of private units to facilitate the return of the whole building to use as a hotel.