Pre-War Houses in Brisbane: A Guide to Demolition and Design in the Traditional Building Character Overlay

Table of Contents

Do you own or looking to purchase a pre-war dwelling house in Brisbane? You need to be aware of the Traditional Building Character Overlay (TBC) and the restrictions it imposes on demolition, renovations and new designs.


Below JREY® will walk you through the criteria for demolition and the Brisbane City Council’s guidelines for designing alterations, extensions and new builds in this very specific town planning overlay.

What is the Traditional Building Character Overlay?

The Traditional Building Character Overlay, shortened to TBC, is a legislative mechanism in the Brisbane City Plan 2014 that protects pre-war housing in Brisbane.


The TBC was introduced by Brisbane City Council in response to concerns about the loss of the city’s traditional architecture and character. The TBC applies to areas of the city that are identified as having a high concentration of traditional buildings. These areas are considered to be of high cultural and historical significance, and the TBC aims to preserve and enhance this character.


The overlay works by setting out a series of guidelines that must be followed by home owners, developers and builders when designing and constructing buildings. These guidelines cover a range of areas, including building height, setback, materials, and design.


The overarching purpose of the TBC is to protect the traditional architecture of Brisbane and promote the use of traditional building materials and techniques. This means that new buildings and alterations to existing buildings in TBC overlay areas must be designed and constructed in a way that is sympathetic to the traditional character of the area.

How to identify if your property is in the Traditional Building Character Overlay.

Example: purple hatch indicates the traditional building character overlay area.

If you live in Brisbane, it is important to know whether your property is located within the Traditional Building Character Overlay (TBC) area or not.

To determine whether your house is located within the TBCO area, you can check the Brisbane City Council’s website and use their interactive mapping tool. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Go to the BCC website and click on the ‘Interactive Mapping’ option.
  2. Enter your address in the search bar or zoom in on the map to locate your property.
  3. Once you have found your property, click on the ‘View Property Report’ button.
  4. Select the ‘Traditional Building Character Overlay (TBCO)’ option from the list of overlays.

If your property is located within the Traditional Building Character overlay, it will be highlighted on the map. If your property is not located within the TB, then you do not need to comply with the TBC provisions.

(If your house is not within an overlay which protects traditional character then please speak with your building certifier as this demolition will not likely require a town planning permit).

What is a pre-war house?

A pre-war house in Brisbane refers to a type of residential property that was constructed prior to 1947, before World War II, which started in 1939. These houses are typically characterised by their distinctive architecture, design features, and building materials that reflect the period of their construction.


Some of the defining features of pre-war houses in and around Brisbane include high ceilings, VJ walls, hardwood floors, and timber detailing. They also often have large verandas, bay windows, and ornate fretwork.


Pre-war houses can be found in many older suburbs, particularly those close to the city centre. Some of the most popular areas for pre-war houses include Paddington, New Farm, Red Hill, and Wilston.


It is important to note that a pre-war house isn’t limited to the traditional Queenslander style of house and can include Tudor style and Spanish Mission.

Spanish Mission

The Design and Demolition of Pre-war Houses in the TBC.

The Brisbane community has long recognised the cultural value of pre-war houses and has been vocal about the need to retain them. As a result, the Council has increased protective measures to ensure their retention and enhancement of houses within the TBC.

See also  Jumping Through Hoops: How to Obtain Approval for Your Indoor Sport and Recreation Facility


Substantial Demolition | Entire House

The current planning scheme, Brisbane City Plan 2014 utilises the Traditional Building Character overlay as the legislative mechanism to protect pre-war housing from demolition.

There are only a few justifications for removing an entire house within this overlay area:

  • Clearly demonstrate that the house was not built prior to 1947
  • The house is substantially altered
  • The house does not have the appearance of being constructed in 1946 or earlier
  • An engineer has certified that the house is not structurally sound and not reasonable capable of being made structurally sound.
  • If the house is demolished it will not result in the loss of traditional building character
  • Is in a section of the street within the Traditional Building Character overlay that has no traditional building character
JREY® Approval Example: Pre-war house approved for demolition through Planning and Environment Court due to a lack of TBC housing in this section of the street.

Minor Demolition and Partial Demolition

If you are renovating an existing pre-war house in the TBC overlay and need to demolish a portion, or small part of the house to facilitate new works, you are able to lodge a development application with Brisbane City Council for partial or minor demolition works. 

Examples of these works approved include:

  • the removal of a portion of roof to enable a sunlight 
  • the removal of a minor window and window hood to facilitate internal room changes
  • removal of a section of wall, forward of the highest part of the roof. 


Every home project is different when it comes to minor and partial demolition of pre-war homes. Please speak with JREY® about our PPR service for access to considered, professional opinion on whether Council will approve the works or further changes are required. 

JREY® Approval Example: Pre-war carport approved for demolition whilst retaining the dwelling in whole.

Accepted Demolition

Brisbane City Plan includes a number of scenarios where demolition to a pre-war house in the traditional building character overlay are allowed without the need to seek a development permit including for example:

Non-original parts: If your pre-war house has non-original parts such as a rear extension, carport or shed that do not contribute to the traditional character of the house, you may be able to demolish them without seeking council approval.

Replacement in kind: If a non-original part of the pre-war house is beyond repair or poses a safety risk, you may be able to demolish it and replace it in kind, meaning that the new structure must match the original design and materials of the pre-war house.

How to determine if your house was built prior to 1947 and is considered pre-war

There are a number of ways you can determine the age of your home which include (but not limited to):

  • Compare 1946 aerial mapping with current day aerial mapping to determine if the roof line on the site in 1946 was consistent with current roofline, taking note of any extensions and possible home relocations.
  • Real estate records accurately note the circa construction date of most homes.
  • Property professionals with character house experience can assist
  • Heritage architects can undertake historical research

What does substantially altered mean?

The term substantially is not entirely prescriptive and therefore open to some interpretation however if you look at the home and it would be impossible to rectify the home to its pre-war state then Council will support its removal.

By way of example, JREY® obtained approval for demolition of a pre-war dwelling in the traditional building character overlay as the house had been renovated in a way that meant the core of the traditional home would need to be completely rebuilt as the original external had been removed and bricked in with only the original roof remaining.

See also  Town Planner Fees
JREY® Approval Example: Significantly altered pre-war house approved for demolition by Brisbane City Council.

Does the house appear to be a pre-war house from the street?

In some cases, the pre-war house has been ‘butchered’ in the decades following its construction to meet the needs and, or aesthetics of the time.

These houses may have seen renovations to their roof lines, building materials and when viewed from the street has no appearance of being an original Queenslander or other pre-war house style.

When you need an Engineer to certify that the house is structurally unsound.

Whilst any engineer can state the house is not structurally sound, Council will specifically require a Registered Practicing Engineer of Queensland (RPEQ) provide a written list of all items that make the house structurally unsound. 

A builder may then need to cost these items and a determination will be made as to whether the costs to make the home structurally sound are unreasonable. 

No dollar figure is provided within the acceptable outcomes of the code.

Will the removal of the house result in the loss of traditional building character?

If this is the basis of your reason to request removal or demolition of a character house in Brisbane, you will need a good heritage architect or heritage consultant to provide a supportive opinion to utilise this justification point in associated with a JREY® town planner.

Does your street have NO traditional building character?

In some cases, your house may be in a long street where one end is full of intact character houses whilst your house is on the end with 3 storey brick 6-pack units and post-war buildings.

If you want to utilise this justification criteria for demolition of your house, please be aware that this is worded as “no traditional character”, one other intact pre-war dwelling house in your ‘section of the street’ analysis may take you from no traditional character to some traditional character.


It is important to note that the TBC provisions of Brisbane apply to both renovations and new builds.


If you are planning any alterations or additions to your property, you will need to comply with the TBC provisions, regardless of whether your property is of pre-war construction or post-war construction.

Brisbane City Council identified 4 key areas for homeowners and designers to consider in their 2020 design guide:

  • Development should complement existing character of the street.
  • Enhance and retain original details of the home.
  • Do not impact your neighbours negatively.
  • Design your home to adapt to the needs of the future.


Note: If your pre-war house IS NOT located in the TBC overlay, you do not need to design to the TBC codes and this does not apply to you.

New Builds in the Traditional Building Character Overlay.

Every new house constructed in the Traditional Building Character Overlay (TBCO) requires a Development Application (DA) to be submitted to the Brisbane City Council for approval.


The development application prepared by your JREY® town planner will assess your proposal plans against the Traditional Building Character Overlay Design Code of the City Plan, among other provisions.


The essence of this code is to ensure new houses must respect and enhance the traditional character of the surrounding buildings, including the roof form, materials, and external design elements. The design should be visually compatible with the streetscape, setback from the street, and have a suitable scale and proportion.

Renovations to a Pre-war house in the traditional building character overlay

Designing a renovation for a pre-war house in the Brisbane Traditional Building Character Overlay requires careful consideration and planning to ensure compliance with the local planning codes, while also preserving the character and heritage of the building.