With more than 150,000 residents, the city of Cairns is the cultural locus of North Queensland, Australia since it lies on the edge of renowned tourist destinations like the Great Barrier Reef. Due to its geographically rich history of more than 40 years, the Cairns existing Civic Theater was unable to accommodate the requirements of the residents in terms of performing arts, which caused the need for a space that could adequately cater to the needs of the residents and the productions. Cox Architects renowned for their culture and context-embedded works stood up to the cause and  Richard Coulson being the Lead Architect designed the Cairns Performing Arts Center in 2018 for the Cairns Regional Council to enrich the culturally equipped lands of Cairns.

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Cultural Precinct of Cairns_ ©Christopher Fredrick Jones

Design & Architect’s Philosophy:

“The process was underpinned by the following principles: the building must be inclusive and welcoming to Cairns’ diverse and vibrant community; it must be flexible, allowing a range of community and professional uses; it must be technologically appropriate to ensure that it attracts the best acts; and it must be economically sound, creating new facilities that would increase revenue and thereby help to offset capital costs.”

Richard Coulson, Director

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CPAC_ ©Andrew Watson

Cox Architecture is based on mainly two principles- One is the planning of cities and buildings that are adaptable to change and the other is the creation of sustainable spaces. Therefore Cairns with its applaudable history and context was just the right canvas for COX to carve its creativity and talent on.

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Conceptual Sketch_©Richard Coulson

Design Concept:

“The design concept was to enliven visitor experience both internally and externally. This was achieved by a suite of public arrival and connecting spaces, and the employment of new architectural treatments that enlivened the existing building fabric.”

Shane Horswill, Senior Associate

Cox Architecture Brisbane

Cairns Performing Arts Centre (CPAC) is the podium for performing arts right amidst the city of Cairns featuring a 3-story façade, 9-story fly tower, new Porte-cochere, shaded terrace, 1,000-person foyer, significantly larger bar area, and increased amenities. Cairns is a city exceeding in its diversities in creation and art and CPAC is the harbor connecting, engaging, and helping develop this link between the residents and the entrepreneurs of creativity, culture, and drama.

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Entrance of CPAC_© Andrew Watson

Patrons of such fields grasp the advantage of the opportunities offered at CPAC to experience the art and the performances so well blended with the genres i.e. classic, theatrics, and traditional theme in forms of art, craft, and productions. The visitors mostly range from new collaborators, and traditional artists to youth around the world. 

Project Summary

A 941-seat auditorium, 400-seat studio theatre, and 1,000-person foyer


The design considerations made were done keeping the overall existing and proposed conditions in perspective. The performing theater was planned to keep the right acoustics in check by keeping control of the reverberant sounds concerning a variety of performance types. The lighting installed was intended to be adequate for each performance type. The seating provided a premium view of the performance irrespective of your seats. The circulation planned was seamless both for backstage and the theatergoers. Building envelope, Façade Design, Structural Engineering, Transport Engineering, Transport Consulting, and overall designing are the areas COX keeps their hands on and works steadily in.

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Foyer_ ©Andrew Watson
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Facade Design_© Andrew Watson


The design revolves around the solutions to the city’s dramatic tropical setting. It was achieved by the careful incorporation of fixed sun shields which provided adequate shading from the western setting sun whilst maintaining visual continuity. It commits to both; the people of Cairns and the connections Cairns has with Torres Strait and Pacific Rim Islands.

The district houses a Proscenium Arch Theatre of 950 seats, a 400-seat flexible studio, and an external performance amphitheater of 3000 capacity. That particular district consists of Cairns Performing Arts Centre and Munro Martin Parklands. The context of North Queensland is laced with indigenous cultural traditions, performances & ethics in and out and CPAC is a podium for such growing talent, state-of-the-art drama, and world-class touring performances. 

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Amphitheatre_© Andrew Watson
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Acoustic Design_ ©Andrew Watson

The best part about the CPAC’s encased 400-seating studio theatre is that it accommodates an automated flooring system which can help enable the presentation of a variety of events by reconfiguring it as per the wants. Another great aspect of CPAC is the Florence Social, as suggested by its name. It is a place on the ground floor of the building, perfect to hang out with your friends and family, for catching a little break during the intervals or the beginnings and endings.

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Series of battens_ ©Andrew Watson

Materials used:

A series of bars along an undulating ‘round’ form made with sculptural massing accommodating a rather tall fly tower within an inclusive form. 

The large batten screens double as both an architectural feature and an acoustic solution, enhancing the acoustic performance drastically alongside providing state-of-the-art aesthetic value. The structural design made sure that the auditorium comes out to be mostly column-free through the adoption of a trussed roof system and should withstand cyclonic wind loads.

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Timber battens_© Andrew Watson

“The sustainable timber batten materials, clean lines & the simplicity of the Sculpt form Click-on Battens system met both the design vision for the project and provided a necessary economy for the significant quantum of timber battens that exist in the CPAC project.”

Shane Horswill, Senior Associate

Cox Architecture Brisbane

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Tropical Response and CPAC_ ©Andrew Watson

The tropical solution is vivid from the foyer’s solar screen that shades the side from the sun. The context including the colors and the traditions of weaving contributes to the design of the screen that changes the outlook throughout the day since it delivers diffused light in and out. The façade mixes well with the Cairns culture and the setting. Not only have the aesthetics, but the timber battens also facilitated the acoustics of the place.

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CPAC_ ©Andrew Watson

The spectrum of the facilities offered in CPAC includes a vast variety i.e. music, theatre, dance, opera, drama, film, carnival, comedy, etc. The in-site proscenium arch theatre is home to a vast area planned for accommodating at least a symphony orchestra and so the place has enough seats which cater to the wholesome viewing no matter wherever you are seated.

A treat to the soul_© Andrew Watson

Therefore, the CPAC is a must-visit aesthetic enigma for all types of clientele and artists since it is planned to feed the souls, no matter which genre one might be interested in.

Reference List

Citations for websites:

COX- Cairns Performing Arts Centre, Cairns

Available at https://www.coxarchitecture.com.au/project/cairns-performing-arts-centre-2/  [2018]

Cairns Performing Arts Centre

Available at https://schulershook.com/projects/cairns-performing-arts-centre [2019]

Paula Pintos. Cairns Performing Arts Centre / Cox Architecture + CA Architects

Available at  https://www.archdaily.com/958296/cairns-performing-arts-centre-cox-architecture-plus-ca-architects [March 12, 2021]


Available at https://www.tropicalnorthqueensland.org.au/de/listing/product/cairns-performing-arts-centre/


Chaos within, Beauty Beyond. She is a compulsive person who obsesses over everything, every detail she finds beautiful! She aspires to make beautiful, functional & thoughtful works to play her part well. She’s not just a human being, she is art with a keen eye for aesthetics; She bleeds through art/words.