D Day for Fremantle

Coles Woolstores Development

Members are urgently requested to be involved in what is one of the biggest developments in years – the proposed 38.9 metres high Coles Woolstore development which we have reported regularly on (38.9 metres is 50% higher than the 10 storey Johnston Court box from the 1960s).

The plans are from Silverleaf, who have already built the dismal banks and Target buildings in Queen Street and who did the damage to Fremantle’s heritage with the Atwell Project and have just received permission for massive changes and demolition to the 28 shops of the Mannings Buildings.

It is obvious what council’s intent is- to facilitate ‘revitalisation’ in the town regardless of quality, and recent developments all over Fremantle attest to council’s keenness to help developers regardless of quality.

The proposal has been in front of the Design Advisory committee who have NOT signed off on the plans as being of ‘exceptional’ design quality, but worryingly, just two members of that committee have now provided advice which is guiding the final design criteria to be decided next Wednesday at planning committee (6pm at North Fremantle Community Centre).

One planning expert wrote to the Fremantle Society this week:   “As far as I’m aware, it’s the only design review panel that does not have members from a range of other disciplines (urban design, landscape, planning, etc). It also has a reputation for a dogmatic chair. As such, some of its advice has been questionable, lacks an urban design perspective and tends to look at projects through a one-eyed lens of modernist dogma. If it had more of an urban design focus, the proposal may have been different, or not supported.”

The agenda for next Wednesday states:

The proposal is subject to the provisions of Scheme Amendment no. 49 which included specific requirements in relation to the design quality of the development. Given the size and complexity of the proposed development it is considered appropriate for Planning Committee to provide a view on a number of the key design and planning principles of the development, prior to the applicant further refining the design and an officer report being finalised for determination of the application by the Joint Development Assessment Panel.
It is recommended that the Planning Committee advises the applicant that in principle it supports the architectural direction of the proposal and subject to specific modifications it has the potential to be of an exceptional design quality. 

If it achieves ‘exceptional design significance’ it is eligible for the 38.9 metre height. There is no doubt council is doing everything it can to push this development through. If it had merit, the Fremantle Society would wholeheartedly support the plans for the revitalisation of this run down city centre block (which is NOT away from the heritage areas of Fremantle as the mayor keeps saying). But, please read the two reports we have commissioned from two of Western Australia’s experts. To provide expert and independent views apart form those of the Fremantle Society we commissioned well  known architect Ken Adam and Malcolm Mackay (who worked for the state government for years as a planner and who currently sits on SEVEN urban design review panels).

Please see if you agree with the two reports below we commissioned and send comments to us (John.dowson@yahoo.com) and council (members @fremantle.wa.gov.au). You do NOT need to make a submission. Just wrote to council and others to say if you support these expert reports (and we did not direct the two experts).

Ken Adam’s report concludes: If the application were approved, in my opinion the game, for the future of Fremantle, will have been lost, and the detail hardly matters.

We sent these reports to the mayor and all councillors and have only received acknowledgement from one councillor.

WOOLSTORES CENTRE: PROPOSED MAJOR REDEVELOPMENT, CANTONMENT STREET, FREMANTLE
SUBMISSIONS & COMMENTARY                        prepared  by KEN ADAM LFAIA, LFPIA, LFAIUS

This document is in two parts. The first part comprises a set of succinct submissions in relation to the proposed development. The second comprises support and justification for those submissions.
These submissions and commentary represent solely the professional assessments and opinions of Ken Adam. They have been prepared both personally and for the Fremantle Society, for submission to the City of Fremantle and the Joint Development Assessment Panel charged with considering the proposed development on its merits.

PART ONE: SUMMARY SUBMISSIONS
Submission 1:
The comprehensive redevelopment of the Woolstores Centre site is extremely welcome as an important contribution to the future of Fremantle.
Submission 2:
In general the mix of uses proposed for the site is appropriate.
Submission 3:
The most important benchmark for the height, scale and massing of the development is set by the adjoining Woolstores building and, to a lesser extent, the newer building at the SE corner of Cantonment and Queen Streets.
Submission 3:
The appropriate benchmark for the height of the development is the level set by the adjacent Goldsborough Mort Woolstores building, and that level should best be maintained consistently over the whole site. No protrusions above this level, other than minor necessary protrusions, should be accepted. It is accepted that the 21m height limit approximates this level.
Submission 4:
This level should not be exceeded, even were the architectural design to be judged “distinctive” and of “exceptional design quality” or representing “excellence” in design. Even at the highest level of design quality any extensions of the kind proposed, above this level, visible from the public realm, would not be acceptable.
Submission 5:
Regardless of any other considerations, it is my professional opinion, based on a lifetime experience of architecture, urban design and planning, that the proposed development, while unquestionably of an acceptable design standard, falls well short of either distinction or exceptional design quality.
Submission 6:
For the reasons given here, it is my professional opinion that the development application should be refused.

PART TWO: JUSTIFICATION AND SUPPORTING COMMENT
Credentials
Ken Adam is an architect (retired), planning consultant and urban designer. He has directed a practice in those disciplines since 1974. He is a recipient of the prestigious Architects Board Award. Prior to private practice he had headed the Urban Design Section of the Town Planning Department. He was a founding member of CityVision in 1987 and has been Chairman since 2001. He has taught urban design at Curtin University.
Ken Adam has acted regularly as an expert witness in the Supreme Court and the State Administrative Tribunal and its predecessors, in relation to matters of architecture, urban design and planning, for both private clients and local government authorities.
He is a fourth-generation Fremantle person, and lives in North Fremantle. He is a member of the Fremantle Society. He was the consultant responsible for the most comprehensive study of Fremantle, carried out in 1979-80 for the purposes of establishing a comprehensive strategy for the City and the preparation of TPS3.

Introduction
This submission is necessarily brief and does not pretend to be fully comprehensive. It focuses on the major urban design issues of scale, form and character of the proposed development, in relation to its surroundings and the city centre as a whole. It should not be read as necessarily agreeing with those aspects of the proposed development not specifically covered here.
In preparing this document I have studied the report and drawings accompanying the application and held brief discussions with the officers responsible for reporting on the application. I have revisited the site and its surroundings. I have not had access to the applicant’s Design Report (Appendix A to the applicant’s report).
This document tries to go to the heart of what really matters for the future of Fremantle. It is not just a simplistic exercise in checking whether all the boxes have been ticked.

Total Redevelopment of the Site is Welcome and offers a Great Opportunity
It should be clear that, in my opinion, a total redevelopment of the site is not merely welcome; it is well overdue. The replacement of the original woolstores building by the existing banal shopping centre, car parking and open servicing areas was, in urban design and other terms, a complete and unrelieved disaster. The decision to redevelop the entire site offers a wonderful opportunity to undo that mistake and create a very positive development that will serve and greatly enhance the city centre. The opportunity must not be missed, nor should it in any way be compromised by confusing what may be permitted with what is best for Fremantle

The Issues
The issues dealt with here are:

  • whether the general character, including proposed use , scale and form, is appropriate;
  • whether the building heights proposed are appropriate and whether the development meets the criteria for design excellence; and
  • whether the more detailed architectural design aspects are appropriate.

Context is Everything
The site occupies a pivotal position in the city’s townscape and activities, mediating between the major woolstore buildings (now converting, appropriately, to residential use) and the central business (essentially retail, entertainment and office) district.
Both the uses and character of development proposed for the subject site must recognise this pivotal position.
There are two buildings that, in my opinion, set the benchmark for the height and scale of what should occur on the site. These are: firstly and most critically, the superb Goldsborough Mort and Company Woolstores building immediately north of the site, which, like the subject site, spans between Cantonment Street and Elder Place and extends for a long distance along Cantonment Street and Elder Place. The second is the relatively recent and modern building on the SE corner of Queen and Goldsborough Streets. Whatever happens on the site must recognise both the scale and character of these two buildings.
None of the other adjacent sites – the obsolete Point Street car parking building and the tired shops on the east side of Cantonment Street and the Wilson’s Car Park on Queen Street – is determinant of what should occur on the subject site, but what is built on the site will inevitably influence their future development.

General Character and Form of the Development
It seems to me that a mixed use development of the site is most appropriate, because the site does mediate between the essentially business and essentially residential precincts of the city.
For that reason, I support, in general terms, the mix proposed, including the replacement of the major supermarket, market hall, offices, significant active-frontage retail and other uses and housing for both active young adults and predominantly retired people.
Provision of active uses at the street frontages of Cantonment and Queen Streets is especially important, and supported. Goldsborough Street, currently a pedestrian desert, also offers the opportunity to become an active and very attractive street in future, especially with a future re-use of the Goldsborough Mort Woolstore building.
In general terms the most appropriate precedents for the overall scale and form of the redevelopment of this pivotal site lie with the adjacent Goldsborough Mort Woolstores building and in the memory of the site, itself a former wool store building of similar scale and mass to the Goldsborough Mort building and the other woolstores along Elder Place and Beach Street – the so-called “March of the Giants”. These suggest a strong, perhaps even monolithic, well-defined mass. The proposed development largely achieves this, were it not for the superimposition of the two tower elements, one at either end, and the excessive size of gaps in the facades, compromising the continuity of the facades.
The unusually large size of the site also strongly suggests the provision of at least one public pedestrian accessway through the site, in line with either the Westgate Mall entry, as proposed, or Point Street, or both. This access way, however, should be completely permeable at ground level, ie it should provide a clear view through between Cantonment Street and Elder Place.

Building Height and Design Excellence
In my opinion the most beneficial height for development over the site would be set precisely at the level of the very fine Goldsborough Mort Woolstores building, creating a  beautifully proportioned streetscape in Goldsborough Street. This level would appear to be close to the level that would generally result from the 21m height limit.
At the southern end of the site a benchmark, but not such a precise one, is set by the building on the SE corner of Queen and Cantonment Streets. This building, of four tall storeys, may be a little short of the 21m mark, but development to the 21m level on the subject site would produce an acceptable outcome. The discrepancy would not be material.
Further to that, in my opinion the buildings on the site should maintain a consistent level, as the adjacent Woolstores building does.
The key issue is whether the additional heights proposed at the north and south ends of the development would be acceptable. This should be looked at from both a straightforwardly urban design perspective and from the more legalistic perspective of compliance with the provisions of the planning scheme.
From an urban design perspective the most desirable streetscape outcome is unquestionably to maintain a consistent building height/level based on the level of the Goldsborough Mort Woolstores building. The 21m height level appears to be a good approximation of this. No extension of height above this visible from the adjacent streets would improve the appearance of the building.
Even one additional floor would be detrimental. It is instructive, in this regard, to consider the outcome of a single additional floor, set back from the facade, on the Marilyn New building at the northern end of Cantonment Street, at and adjacent to Parry Street. The extra floor is both highly visible and destroys the otherwise clean lines of the facades. Go and look at it.
The two proposed blocks of additional height, one at each end of the development, almost doubling the height of the development at those places, create an awkwardly balanced and poorly proportioned architectural composition. Despite the (relatively minor) setting back of these blocks, and the conscious facade design effort to distinguish them from the main building mass (the so-called podium/floating tower effect) they remain simply obtrusive elements. Far from being a beneficial element, as claimed by the applicant’s report, they are significantly detrimental to the urban design outcome. That’s from a purely urban design perspective.
From the perspective of compliance with the provisions of the town planning scheme and other instruments, my conclusion is no different. In order to gain approval for the additional height it is necessary for the applicant to demonstrate that the outcome would represent “Distinctive Architectural Design and Exceptional Design Quality”. The architectural design of the complex as a whole, and of the additional floors, is competent, but no more so than must be expected of any architect. Architects are rightly expected, at the very least, to produce buildings that not only function well, are solid and don’t leak, respectful of their neighbours and compliant with the rules, but also are visually attractive and fitting to their setting. That is as a minimum. “Good”, even “High” quality design is expected of all buildings, especially those designed by architects.
“Distinctive” and “Exceptional Design Quality”, by definition, are terms that cannot be applied to any but a relative handful of buildings. It is frequently claimed that the practical application of those terms is (merely) a matter of subjective opinion, and one opinion is as good as another. That is not so. As in all fields requiring the exercise of judgement it is a matter of professional/expert opinion, based upon professional knowledge and experience. That is why the Council has an (expert) Design Advisory Committee. And that is why my opinion has been sought.
It is rare, and difficult, for a development such as this that is driven, quite properly and essentially, by financial imperatives, to achieve distinction (positive or otherwise) and exceptional design quality or design excellence. To gain some idea of what is required to reach these heights, one needs to look at examples of highly regarded contemporary buildings, notably those that have achieved awards of excellence. In the City of Perth Council House and the new City Library come to mind, as do 40 William Street and the Central Park development. In Fremantle perhaps the proposed Kings Square redevelopment might meet the test. Could anyone seriously argue that the proposed Woolstores redevelopment would stand proudly alongside these?
Competent and attractive as the proposed development may be claimed to be it is neither “distinctive” nor of “exceptional design quality”, and hence does not pass the bar for the additional height concession.

Detailed Architectural Design
Had time permitted, I would have prepared comments on some of the more detailed aspects of the architectural design, including the materials and articulation of the facades, the treatment of the corners, the entry points into the development, and so on. However,  I have necessarily focussed on the critical  issues of the height and form of the development.
In a sense the detailed architectural and design treatment can wait: in my opinion the application should be refused, for the reasons given. If the application were approved in my opinion the game, for the future of Fremantle, will have been lost, and the detail hardly matters.

Ken Adam       22 November 2017

mackay urbandesign
Making places … better

John Dowson

By email:
26 January 2018

Dear John

Re: Woolstores redevelopment, Fremantle

Thank you for your request for some comments in regard to the proposal for the Woolstores redevelopment. As I mentioned when we met, I sit on seven design review panels across the metropolitan area and provide regular dependant design review advice to several other local governments. I also spent four years as a DAP member. As such, I am well placed to provide an informed opinion.

My comments on the proposal, based on a preliminary review of the plans attached to the agenda for the January 31st Council meeting, are as follows:

  • The redevelopment of the site is supported in principle.
  • The mix and general disposition of uses on the site is supported.
  • The general use of brick to the ‘podium’ levels is supported.
  • The degree of ground floor pedestrian permeability is supported.
  • The design of the first six storeys (the five-storey podium level and the glazed and set back sixth floor) is generally supported other than:

o Thelackofgroundflooractivationofthepedestriancross-linkadjacentto the vehicle ramps.

o ThelackofactivesleevingtothecarparkalongElderPlace.

o Thewidthofthevehiclecrossovers.

o Thelackofcontinuitytopedestrianshadeandshelteralongtheadjacent footpaths.

o Thehighdegreeofarchitecturalrepetitionandlackofvisualinteresttothe two longer street elevations (Cantonment and Elder), given the length of the street block.

The design of the proposal above the sixth level is wholly inappropriate for the

following reasons:

  • The location of the taller elements. Additional height could be supported if it was sufficiently set back so as to not be visible from the adjacent streets. To this end, any taller elements should be located above the central parking structure. The height of any taller elements should be determined through a process of visual analysis, of which there is no evidence in the agenda attachment.
  • The massing of the taller element is visually intrusive and overly competes with the architectural detail of the podium level.
  • The architectural treatment of the hotel component is of a scale that overwhelms the architecture below and is inconsistent with the architectural grain and character of Fremantle.
  • The horizontality of the apartment component is inconsistent with the architectural grain and character of Fremantle.

    In view of the above, the proposed design cannot be construed as being of ‘design excellence’ and does not warrant approval in its present form. Given the shortcomings identified above, the design needs to be substantially modified rather than ‘tweaked’.

    Kind regards

    Malcolm Mackay

    Director Mackay Urbandesign

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *