Barcelona Brilliance or the Usual Sorry Silverleaf Style?

These four images show architects in Barcelona hard at work currently refurbishing a modernist building, the Casa Buros.

Architects from Barcelona visited Fremantle 10 years ago to show their plans for the Coles Woolstore building. The plans were too ambitious and council sent the architects packing. A few years later, architects from Barcelona visited Fremantle to put forward (less) ambitious plans for the Point Street site owned by council, but they were sent packing too.

Now, you have 24 hours to comment on plans for the Coles Woolstore site, not put forward by architects from Barcelona, but by Gerard O’Brien’s company Silverleaf.  We sent you the plans last week, with a report from planning expert Malcolm Mackay.

If you want brilliance for the brilliant little town of Fremantle you have 24 hours to ask for it.

Here is a summary of key points you can ask for:

a) No approval until Silverleaf have complied with plans passed for their Atwell Buildings.

b) Seek to have the 6 small shops in Queen Street removed and the design altered to give that north west corner opposite the railway station a strong, coherent and welcoming architectural feature.

Fremantle Society committee member and inaugural Chair of the Heritage Council Ian Molyneux points to the need to an overall strategic plan linking the railway station to the centre of town, instead of the ad hoc approvals being meted out time after time.

c) The overly dominant and horizontal band of glass of the office area of the new building is alien to and at odds with the Fremantle character.

d) The design of the entrance to the hotel and offices is clumsy, with nothing entrancing to the visitor.

e) The full height shop glazing is more akin to a car showroom along a busy highway than a traditional town centre setting with raised sills and indented openings.

f) Coles should provide a much higher quality supermarket in line with 21st century ones overseas.

Comments to:

Also send to the mayor and councillors:

If you see Gerard O’Brien around town measuring up the next site he is going to buy, ask him for a good building.

If you see the mayor, or your councillor, as them for a good building.

The mayor did comment on the Fremantle Society facebook site pointing to good readaptive work promoted by council by showing a picture of the highly successful Fort Knox woolstore development. What he failed to mention is that when the plans first came to Council, he voted against all the heritage reports and heritage experts and allowed the developer to have extra storeys on top which would have destroyed the saw tooth roof and the heritage integrity of the building. Thank goodness the developer didn’t have the money to build the extra storeys of penthouses there.

The Fremantle Society vision for Fremantle is for a quality environment that sustainably develops the high quality assets we have. Mediocre is not good enough. The “Let’s get on with it brigade” need Fremantle Society members pointing out what could and should be aimed for.

Please get on with your submission.

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

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.


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.


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.


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

THIS is how you design a supermarket

Why Can’t Fremantle Have Quality Development?

The two photographs here are of a new supermarket in London. Why are they relevant to Fremantle?

Gerard O’Brien of Silverleaf, responsible for utterly forgettable developments around town, and for not keeping his promises about them, has submitted new plans for the Coles Woolstore site in Fremantle opposite the railway station, an iconic entry site deserving quality.

The plans are out for public comment, and already there are comments from Gerard OBrien that Coles and Target will leave Fremantle if they don’t get what Gerard O’Brien is going to give them, and commentary from some members of the public to ‘just get one with it’ and ‘accept mediocrity.’

Council policy guidelines already exist to guide new developments and encourage good quality, but they get ignored. If Fremantle Society members ignore this opportunity to ask for good quality, we will yet again get mediocrity.

We have just endured 30 years of mediocrity on the Coles Woolstore site, and now we are expected to put up with more.

Meanwhile in London, new developments like the one pictured above, show what can happen.

The images show a new Waitrose supermarket in an old train shed at King’s Cross, London. It features, besides groceries, a wine bar, live jazz on Thursday evenings, a coffee shop, juice bar, and a cooking school.

The Gerard OBrien proposal not only gives us a very ordinary development, with too much glass, no effort to get rid of the six mediocre little shops along Queen Street, and a Coles reduced by 1100 sqm, but there is no indication we will be getting a better quality supermarket.

British supermarkets like this Waitrose one are 20 years ahead of Australian supermarkets like Coles. Where is the discussion to get Coles to do a better job, so that the site goes from being one with one of the highest rates of shoplifting in Australia, to a destination people actually want to hang out at?

You should at least ask for something better from Gerard and Coles.

You have until 21 August to submit your comments to Fremantle Council. Details on council’s website under “Have Your Say.”

John Dowson
The Fremantle Society

Your Assets are Disappearing Fast

Last week the Fremantle Society wrote to members about Fremantle Council’s intention to sell the iconic Victoria Hall on High Street for $2 million, half of council’s own valuation. The story went viral. On the Fremantle Society Facebook page it reached over 8,000 people, and made the front page of this week’s Fremantle Herald.

This worrying story will not be going away.

The first Facebook comment, as seen above, came from one of the mayor’s supporters, the suspended Perth City Councillor Reece Harley, suggesting that the Fremantle Society should buy the hall – a ludicrous proposal trying to deflect responsibility from the current owners, the council.

In examining council documents to see what else is to be sold off by them to pay for the new unnecessary $50 million administration centre, it is alarming to see that council aim to sell a raft of ratepayer assets, for a projected LOSS of $12 million in just the next 12 months. Included in the fire sale of properties is the site bought for the new depot for $7.758 million. But it is projected to sell that site at 2 Jones Street O’Connor for a profit, at $7.8 million, a fanciful estimate given the current market (and not taking into account the hundreds of thousands of dollars wasted in buying the site and having it empty and not earning rent for years). Thus the $12 million loss is likely to be much higher. In selling previous ratepayer assets cheaply, council has already lost more than that amount already.

We gave the relevant sheets from the budget to a senior practising accountant, and this is his response:

Just looked at the council finance documents. Yep, trend to sell off properties continues & to borrow additional funds …I think originally it was to borrow $15m & has now increased to $20m. The financial statement results continue to be manipulated in relation to depreciation and loss on sale of assets. Depreciation is not shown appropriately in the monthly financial results and also the loss on sale of properties ($12m) is not accounted for in the correct period. If it was shown properly the result for FY18 would be a big loss & poor financial ratios….and bad publicity for the council.

The timing recognition of the significant loss of $12m of the properties to be sold next year is clear accounting manipulation. Under prudent accounting policies (& the council’s stated accounting policies) the loss for these properties should be recognised immediately in the FY18 profit & loss statement, and not deferred to FY19. If the auditors were stronger they should insist on this.

Time for an enquiry?

John Dowson
The Fremantle Society

The Fall of the Hall?

The Rise and now the Fall of Victoria Hall

In an ominous move from a cash strapped group, it has been announced by Fremantle Council that Victoria Hall will be sold.

Given that this Talbot Hobb’s masterpiece is a high quality example of a community hall saved several times for the community, the question must be – to be sold to whom for what?

Built in 1897 as a parish hall for St John’s Church when the dynamic Archdeacon Watkins was building a Church of England empire in Fremantle, which included also building ten cottages in Cantonment Street, Victoria Hall has been an important part of the community. It is a special property. As one observer noted: “Victoria Hall is like a Victorian musical instrument – it has wonderful acoustical qualities… you first need to know how to play it.”

Unlike today when the Church of England is invisible and impotent in the very city it owned the centre of, the church back then played an important social role. There were many uses for Victoria Hall. Between 1914 and 1930 it was used by South Fremantle Football club during the season.

As parishioners moved further out of Fremantle, the hall was leased to the Wrightson brothers for dances and was narrowly saved from demolition by the Fremantle Society in the 1970s with the help of Jack Mundey and a union Green Ban.

By 1985 it had become a Salvation Army second hand shop. When they pulled out in 1996 and a sale was mooted, a community group, the Victoria Hall Association, rallied to lease the building for community events, and Mick Vodanovich was installed as resident caretaker. That didn’t last long and the owners sought a change of use to a furniture showroom with apartments built at the rear. David Gerrand of Deckchair and John Dowson mounted a campaign against such a change of use which would not only have taken the building away from community events, but irreversibly damaged it with apartments. Fortunately Councillor David Johnston supported the campaign, and council raided their own heritage fund for $680,000 to get the money to purchase it.

The funds were taken from a heritage fund set up as a revolving fund for buying buildings, doing them up and selling them and reinvesting the proceeds in further similar projects. However Fremantle Council has not implemented that plan, and after the purchase of Victoria Hall, years of work and $2 million were required to get the building restored and ready for a new life as a theatre, a life the then council wanted to support.

Given Fremantle Council’s recent poor record at defending heritage, of allowing for example development at the nationally significant Warders Cottages contrary to the Conservation Plan, and damaging works to the Atwell and Mannings Buildings, there is no reason to believe that Fremantle Council will do anything to protect Victoria Hall from inappropriate development and use in the hands of a private owner.

There are far too few community theatres and performing spaces left in Fremantle. Victoria Hall has been saved several times in the past for the community. Who will save it now?

(thanks to Toby Leek for his colourful artistry above, and to Garry Gillard for the extensive Freo Stuff posting about this wonderful building)