Rob McK Campbell on the new Administration Building
The latest development of the proposed new administration building conforms to the old story of the Committee set up to design a horse.
Remember this? The architects describing their prize-winning design −
“Materially, the building is conceived as a series of sandstone formations rising up to support a delicate glass prism. White planar elements hover above the streets and define a large verandah. The architecture is clear and coherent… the sandstone references the key historical buildings of Fremantle, the white planar massing alludes to the colour of the ocean liners that frequent the Port City…”
Over the top?
Sandstone is not typical of Fremantle; the key reference here is the St. John’s Church limestone.
However, the architects had successfully used the white planar elements to pull together the difficulties presented them by the competition brief that demanded too big a footprint on the awkward triangular site. Clear and coherent? Not any more. I hear that Councillors decided that it began to look too much like the Myer building, so now we have a collection of awkward and unrelated spaces and an attempt to disguise this behind a metal curtain. A little old lady’s hat and veil trick, which may improve the wearer’s self-esteem but doesn’t fool anyone else.
This façade treatment is at its worst where it abuts and shows no courtesy to the Town Hall.
Perhaps Councillors should acquaint themselves with the public outcry that accompanied the arrival of the Queensgate building on William Street in 1989, particularly its streetscape relationship to the Town Hall. The Daily News headlined −
“Freo stands by its $10m. ugly duckling, doesn’t know if it will turn into a swan or a turkey”.
The Councillors and Officers who then thought that they were clever enough to produce a swan will now be breathing a sigh of relief and giving thanks to know that the turkey is soon to be gobbled up. The current crop of officials should prepare themselves for similar criticism of the present proposal.
The site is still being over-developed, but we now find that the top floor is surplus to Council’s requirements and will be leased out commercially. (The top floor is higher than the Federal Hotel in William Street that has always been the maximum height marker for the Square) Also, that ground floor space on William and Newman Streets will be leased out, leaving no civic function at street level, and ignoring the opportunity to locate the Library at Kings Square ground level. It begins to look as though Council is abusing its own Town Planning scheme to profit as a developer rather than to set civic standards in this sensitive area of the Town.
While there are several, the most awkward space in the whole scheme is the birdsbeak at the corner of Newman and High. At ground floor level, it is an acute triangle, with approximately seven metre sides and four metre base, behind the entrance doors to a restaurant. Imagine yourself − and the furniture − in this space. Similarly, in the office spaces on levels one and two above. Useless floor space, and so un-Freo where corners are traditionally comfortably rounded. Worse, the metal curtain oversails the ground floor and leaves an unfriendly canyon of public space below.
It is difficult to imagine the thinking behind the two sunken pools on either side of the basement library, except perhaps that the current officials are too young to remember the pools that stood alongside the Town Hall in the 1970s − and what happened to them on most week-ends.
And where there should be some free space to allow the Town Hall to stand alone in its architectural strength, there is now none.
(ii) Flawed Heritage Impact Statement
New Council Building gets Heritage Tick of Approval − Herald 1/7/17.
This headline is based on a Heritage Impact Statement prepared for the City of Fremantle in April.
I am not sure what a Heritage Impact Statement (HIS) is for. It certainly is not a substitute for a Conservation Management Plan (CMP) which is the nationally and internationally recognised structure for assessing and managing the impact of new development on places of cultural significance. (ref.UNESCO; ICOMOS; AICOMOS etc.)
In my submission on the Kings Square development project in January, I pointed out this omission and included a prototype CMP. Council staff thought so little of this idea that they did not bother to pass it on to Councillors.
This lack of a rigorously argued and structured overall conservation plan and policies for Kings Square is acknowledged in this HIS; instead, the conclusions are a series of straw-man questions or statements on the impact that the new building will have on the existing Statements of Significance listed in the Municipal Inventory for the Town Hall, St. Johns Church, and Kings Square. eg. −
The Town Hall.
Q: Aesthetic value?The building is a fine example of Victorian Free Classical style civic architecture
demonstrating the civic pride and confidence of the Fremantle Community.
A: There will be no adverse impact.
The new proposal is probably not going to change the style category as defined by Irving&Apperly.
The real question is − will it enhance or diminish the way we see ‘this fine example’ on the ground?
Q: Streetscape contribution?The building occupies a strategic position at the intersection of William
and High Streets making a major contribution to the streetscape of the West End of the City.
A: No adverse impact.
The view of the Town Hall from the West End is its most important contribution to the streetscape,
and brevity required in the documentation of the Inventory leaves it at that. But it is not the only value it has to offer. It also demonstrates the Fremantle habit of comfortably turning around corners using curved facades, towers or turrets. This fundamental principle is flatly contradicted at the new building intersection of High and Newman where a most adverse impact on the townscape occurs. That question is not raised in the Heritage Impact Statement.
Q: The Clock Tower?The Town Hall Clock Tower is a well established landmark in Fremantle, identifying the civic centre of the city.
A: The prominence of the clock will not be diminished.
Perhaps we will still be able to check the time, but in particular, the top floor of the new building will intrude on the architectural view of the tower as a whole on the approaches to the City, and in the closer perspectives from William, Adelaide and Queen Streets, as is well-illustrated in the drawings included in the Heritage Impact Statement.
On the impact of the new building on the townscape of the Square the HIS has not much to say. The latest set of perspective sketches are showing an entirely new and different character to the Square, but this question is not asked in the HIS. However, there is a positive contribution in the statement that − Reopening of Newman Court to traffic will also enhance the urban form of the original square. The reopened street should return to its original name − Newman Street. Yes.
In general, the HIS seems to examine the impact of the new development on the existing paper-work, not the reality of its physical and visual impact on the existing cultural landscape that is Kings Square.
R.McK.Campbell. July, 2017.