Important New Report from Malcolm Mackay

The Fremantle Society recently sent you reports from Malcolm Mackay and Ken Adam on the proposed Coles Woolstore development. We have been pro active in seeking out expert commentary on major developments and issues. We speak to a wide range of key people. We met this week with the Dean of a university architecture school who was aghast at what is happening in Fremantle.

The advice received in the commissioned reports has been professional and insightful. It will help Fremantle achieve a better future if listened to.

Council officers wrote a report stating that the Coles Woolstore proposal needed changes, and suggested what the developer had to do to improve the design. We gave that report to Malcolm Mackay and commissioned him to do a review. His comments are below. They have in turn been reviewed by Ken Adam, who states:

I strongly agree with virtually all of Mackay’s comments. My only reservation relates to the comment that the pedestrian link would be better deleted if active frontages on both sides cannot be immediately achieved.

Very happy for you to state my endorsement of his opinions.

Two points should be strongly emphasised:

·         The professional opinion expressed by Mackay and myself as to the level of quality that “exceptional”  implies; and

·         The fact there is nothing in Amendment 49 that requires the Council to grant a height concession simply because the design is “exceptional”.

mackay urbandesign

Re: Woolstores redevelopment, Fremantle

Thank you for your request for further comments in regard to the proposal for the Woolstores redevelopment, specifically in regard to the commentary in the officer’s report to the Planning Committee and the subsequent resolution of the committee.

Whilst the officer’s report to the Planning Committee considers a range of design and planning principles, it is selective in what it considers and, in doing so, misses others that are arguably more important. In this respect, the advice in the report is little more than a case of, to use an old expression, “applying lipstick to the pig”.

The report specifically considers the brick podium, hotel building siting, the east and west facades of the hotel, the curved steel fins, the retirement living building, the Queen Street/Elder Place intersection, and the pedestrian link.

In the context of the officer’s report recommendations on these items, my observations are as follows:

Brick podium

I agree with the report that the brickwork of the podium should be further developed to lend it a structural quality rather than being a decorative ‘tricks with bricks’ screen to the podium elevations.

Hotel building

Hotel building siting: I agree with the report that any major building elements above the podium level should respect the alignment of the street pattern, and not be whimsically angled for no apparent urban design or structural reason.

East and West hotel facades: The report makes reference to a previous design that has Corten porthole windows on the east and west facades.

Whilst I have not seen the previous design, I see no clear reason why the incorporation of Corten portholes would warrant the design to be considered as ‘exceptional’. The use of Corten portals would appear to be an overly obvious and ‘cheesy’ maritime reference to the rusty hulls of ships and makes little sense on the roof of an urban building.

Curved steel fins: the report references a series of curved metal on an earlier iteration of the design, which subsequently became metal lookalike fins. Notwithstanding what the fins are made of, the fins contribute nothing to Fremantle’s sense of place. In fact, the fins only serve to highlight the incongruity of the building mass by differentiating it from the architecture of the podium below. The advice in the report begs the question: “is doing the wrong thing well better than simply doing the wrong thing?”

Retirement Living Building

The officer’s report advises that if the retirement living building is included in the development application, then the current design would not warrant approval and needs to be substantially redesigned. I agree with that advice.

Queen Street and Elder Place intersection

The report notes that the proposed design fails to consider the long-term purpose of the land that is currently occupied by single-storey buildings, but which are undergoing a process of compulsory acquisition to facilitate road widening. The report suggests that the plan is revised to assume demolition of these buildings and demonstrate how an active and attractive street frontage can be achieved. Again, I agree with that advice.

Pedestrian Link

The report notes that the pedestrian link is inadequate in respect to its width, sightlines and activation. I agree with those observations. However, the report only recommends activation (by ‘future’ active uses) on one side. This is insufficient. If the pedestrian link is to be there, it needs to be treated as a pedestrian street, activated on both sides, and the tenancy spaces need to be available for occupation at the time of completion. I would take the view that if that cannot be achieved, it would be better to not have the pedestrian link and rely instead on a higher quality streetscape along Queen and Goldsborough to provide the pedestrian connectivity.

From the above comments, it is clear that some of the advice in the report would contribute to a more acceptable design outcome, but not all of it. My previous observations noted that the short-comings of the proposal also included:

• The lack of ground floor activation of the pedestrian cross-link adjacent to the vehicle ramps.

• The lack of active sleeving to the car park along Elder Place.

• The width of the vehicle crossovers.

• The lack of continuity to pedestrian shade and shelter along the adjacent footpaths.

• The high degree of architectural repetition and lack of visual interest to the two longer street elevations (Cantonment and Elder), given the length of the street block.

• 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 lack of height being determined through a process of visual analysis.

• 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 the context of the additional planning and design considerations, merely addressing the planning and design principles identified in the report will not achieve a design that warrants an approval, and the matters listed above also need to be addressed.

Finally, I thought I’d offer some commentary on the use of the term ‘exceptional’. I was interested to read Keith O’Brian’s assertion that the Institute of Architects has identified only two WA buildings worthy of ‘exceptional’ status – Allendale Square and Council House’. I have long espoused the view that there are only two exceptional examples of modern architecture in Perth – Council House and the Concert Hall. So, we agree that there are only two and we share the view on one of them.

However, the point is that the term ‘exceptional’ is generally seen to mean something that is far and beyond best practice, which is a very high bar. Most Design Review Panels use the term ‘exemplary’, which is taken to mean of a quality that can be used as an example of what we would wish all development to achieve – a bar that is set at the upper end of best-practice rather than beyond it.

Is the proposal exceptional? No, and is sufficiently flawed to never be in its present form. Is the proposal exemplary? No. However, with sufficient effort to address ALL of the issues raised above, it could be.

Kind regards

Malcolm Mackay

Director Mackay Urbandesign

Precinct Review

Comments close on Monday March 12 concerning the precinct review.

Members are asked to make a submission, however brief, to keep the Fremantle Society in the precinct system. Council intends to get rid of the Fremantle Society and FICRA. The precinct system has not worked well and needs a review. It is often used as a vehicle for mayor and councillors to push their own barrows.

At the very least, one reason for the Fremantle Society remaining in the precinct sytem, a system it helped bring to Fremantle, is that precincts get some advance notice of what is happening at council.

Review of Aboriginal Heritage Act

Today a consultation paper has been released for a long overdue review of the Aboriginal Heritage Act. When instituted in 1972 it was the first of its kind in Australia, but it has not been updated or used as it should have been.

Police Complex (Gerard O’Brien)

Council planning committee on Wednesday passed the development in Henderson Street for the courthouse/police barracks/ warders cottages site through to JDAP, allowing a 5 storey hotel, despite council’s own policy stating that the 5th storey cannot be granted if:

a) the 5th storey is not set back and is visible from surrounding streets (it is not set back and will be clearly visible)

b) it is not the predominant scale of the area (it is not – the repdominant scale is one and two storeys in that area – the large Queensgate car park being in a different zone and being an aberation and not a precedent).

The plans go to JDAP on Monday 19 March at Fremantle Oval at 9.30am.

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