Your Future – Once in a Generation Chance to – GET IT RIGHT

Expert Advice to Guide Your Submission

The last Fremantle Society post we sent you (about seeking good quality development) went viral on facebook, as it raises a subject dear to the hearts of many people around the world – what is happening to our beloved town?

The picture above shows what you will be getting on the Coles Woolstore site – a large hotel  with a smaller Coles inside. Will it become a place good enough to be a genuine destination to hang out in, or will it continue to be a dismal unwelcoming box where people scurry in and out of as fast as possible, because of anonymous architecture and mediocre shops? The plans out for comment give little detail about the quality of the finish or the interiors, so we employed one of the State’s top experts to give his views -to guide yours.

We ask that you ask for good quality.

Malcom Mackay’s report below picks up on Fremantle Society concerns about lack of detail, lack of resolution of issue of the 6 little shops on Queen Street, and over use of glass for frontages.

The six mediocre shops on Queen Street should go. They appeared during the mayoralty of Jenny Archibald and have no history or significance and detract from any attempt to improve Queen Street.

Given the quality of previous works by this developer, Silverleaf, will council finally ask them for quality and delivery? Council held a special council meeting for Silverleaf to deal with the Atwell Buildings development because the developer said time was of the essence and that a national chain would not come to town if they didnt get what they wanted. Well the national chain never arrived, and the building still has not been built according to the approval. Approval for this new project should not be given until the Atwell development complies.

You have until August 20 to sub a comment or three (to planning@fremantle.wa.gov.au).

Please ask for a decent hotel – not the Amana cringe worthy quality they gave Perth.

Please ask Coles to give us a 21st century supermarket instead of a 20th century one (they would love to hear from you at Customer Care: 1 800 061 562).

Here is the expert report:

“Clumsy” and “Alien”

Woolstores redevelopment, Fremantle

Thank you for your request for comments in regard to the revised proposal for the Woolstores site that limits new development to the southwestern end of the site and retains and refurbishes the remainder of the site. My comments are as follows:

General comments

The proposed design appears to be mostly appropriate for its location and appears to be largely compliant with the local planning framework. However, it is noted that the quality of information provided for advertising is limited with the elevations containing no annotation on materials and the only 3D image being on the cover of the accompanying report. This is unfortunate because a number of the architectural devices uses to articulate the building are not readily apparent on the elevations.

Building form

Leaving much of the existing building in place is not the best possible urban design outcome for Fremantle. However, it is a better outcome than the wholesale replacement of the existing building with a much larger one that is inappropriate to its context. Furthermore, the retention of the existing building leaves the door open to replacing it with a well-considered building in the future.

The retention of the existing shops to Queen Street is unfortunate as the north-western corner of the site is a prominent corner that is clearly visible to people arriving in Fremantle at the railway station; also, the corner would have offered an excellent opportunity to establish a strong and welcoming architectural feature. In the event that the shops are demolished at some point in the future, the design of the proposed building, dog-legging around the back with windows overlooking the shop roofs, inhibits the potential to establish an architectural feature of any significance. It would have been beneficial for the DA drawings to include, for information purposes, how the existing shops could be developed in the future.

The height of the building is consistent with a ‘human-scaled’ urban environment and, whilst it is taller than most existing buildings in Fremantle, it is not of a height that is likely to create significant visual intrusion to views of significance in the surrounding area, although the advertised documents would have benefitted from including some visual analysis material.

The planning of the new building is generally logical and functional.

The area over the car park ramp appears unresolved. On plan, it appears that it could function as an indoor performance space with a gently rising terrace. However, in section, it is clear that any such use would be unduly compromised by the level of the underside of the pool that is above.

Elevations

The elevations generally exhibit a rhythm and a depth of articulation that reflects the existing grain of the city centre. However, the success of the articulation depends on being seen in 3D and this is not readily evident in the elevations.

In particular, the upper portion of the elevations looks weak and inconsistent with the strong cornice lines that ‘finish’ the elevations of Fremantle’s traditional buildings. However, in the perspective image, the upper horizontal member of the architectural frames does appear to lend strength to the top of the building, particularly on the Queen/Cantonment corner where it floats out over the return of the floors below. In this respect, it could be seen as a contemporary interpretation of traditional forms.

The treatment of the office area of the new building is unfortunate and is at odds with what is widely perceived as the Fremantle character. The band of glass to the office area sandwiched between two bands of vertical sticks is an overly dominant and horizontal composition that is inconsistent with the vertical and horizontal balance of the rest of the building, and alien to Fremantle as a whole.

The arrangement of the entrance to the hotel and office components is clumsy. The two entrances are squashed together with neither use gaining an entrance that is ‘entrancing’ to a visitor. Whilst, from a distance, the projection over the hotel entrance gives it prominence, it would be less noticeable to visitors on the adjacent pavement.

The full-height shop glazing is more akin to the off-the-shelf curtain walling of a typical car showroom along a highway rather than a retail centre in a traditional town centre setting. The shop frontage should take a cue from the existing and traditional shop fronts that often feature a raised sill and indented openings.

The application of the architectural treatment of the new building to the retained building will assist in ‘refreshing’ the retained building and help to integrate the new building into an overall composition.

The use of several canopy treatments rather than one homogenous canopy along the length of Cantonment Street contributes to the traditional rhythm of Fremantle’s streets.

Further attention needs to be paid to the design of the vehicle entrance to the site. It is unclear from the advertised documents as to whether there is a roller door or whether the vehicle entrance is a gaping concrete chasm. Either way, there is an opportunity to treat the vehicle entrance in similar materials to the rest of the building so that is integrated, rather than being left as unfinished concrete, as is often the case.

Materials

According to the report, the materials feature brick and Corten steel, although there are no cross references on the elevations. If these are indeed the feature materials of the elevations, then they provide an appropriate colouring and level of texture for the locality.

Conclusion

Architecture is a somewhat subjective issue, and there are differing opinions on what constitutes an appropriate architectural response to an existing place with historical value and character. For some people, nothing less than traditional forms and materials will suffice. However, others believe that new buildings can, and should be, contemporary with the times they are created, and the reality is that this is the prevailing orthodoxy in the planning arena.

It should also be noted that the degree to which buildings need to be sensitive to their context varies from site to site within the same place. If the subject site were in Fremantle’s west end, sandwiched between two listed buildings, it would require a more sensitive design than if it were on the periphery of the town centre.

Given its location and the prevailing orthodoxy of how new architecture responds to existing places, the proposed new building is a largely acceptable outcome for the site, subject to a few relatively minor changes as suggested above. Whilst the design is not one that could be described as ‘design excellence’ (which implies a quality that is far and above the norm) it is, nevertheless, of a quality that is better than average and would, with a few changes, be a respectable contemporary addition to Fremantle’s streetscape. It exhibits fundamental aspects of Fremantle’s character in respect to rhythm, colour, materials and proportion, although there is still room for more explanation or improvement or both at a detailed level.

It is also noted that as an interim development it doesn’t preclude the potential to redevelop the rest of the retail centre in the future and, in that respect, makes it a better outcome than the previous proposal.

by Malcom Mackay

John Dowson
President

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