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.

Coles Woolstores/Police Complex (O’Brien again)/Book Launches

Disturbing Comments from Mayor on Coles Woolstores

In response to architect Ken Adam’s latest comments of 28 February, the mayor has made disturbing comments about the proposal for the Coles Woolstore site.

The Fremantle Society commissioned two prominent architects to analyse the Gerard O’Brien Silverleaf proposals for the Coles Woolstores site, a huge piece of land opposite the heritage listed railway station and alongside the heritage listed Marilyn New woolstores (though the mayor keeps saying it’s in the ‘east end’ ‘away from the heritage’ of the town).

Ken Adam wrote a detailed report and spoke at the council planning committee, saying that whatever went on the site should fit within a plane running from Marilyn New’s wool store (21 metres on the left of the image above)  to the 4 storey O’Brien new building on the corner of Queen and Cantonment Streets (approx 21 metres). Architect Carl Payne sent us a sketch of his analysis, which agrees with this and is shown at the bottom of the image above – a very substantial building which would fit the desired square meterage required without needing the proposed towers, and in keeping with the bulk and scale of the wool store which stood there originally.

Ken Adam also stated that the proposal was nowhere near good enough to be granted the sought after height of 38.9 metres based on it being ‘exceptional.’

That view was backed up by the other expert we commissioned – Malcolm Mackay – who sits on seven metropolitan design review committees.

When the mayor rejected Ken Adam’s assertions about height, Ken Adam responded on 28 February:

My comments remain relevant for three reasons. First, Amendment 49 allows the Council to approve a design that may be be “exceptional” or “distinctive” or even “excellent”, but does not oblige it, especially if it is inappropriate or offensive in some way, for example, as in the present case, in terms of its scale. Second, in no way can the design be judged to be “excellent” if the design is not complete, as in this case, where an important and distinctive part of it (the northern section of high rise) is not even included in the application. I have no doubt that, because of this, any approval based on a judgement of “excellence” or equivalent would be thrown out by the Supreme Court. Thirdly, even if the design were complete, there is no guarantee that it would ever be built completely as approved, a fact acknowledged by the officers and the Mayor, so no guarantee can ever be given of its “excellence” or equivalent.I suggest the Council is on dangerous ground.

The mayor replied yesterday:

I can’t agree however as , I am sure you aware, the Fremantle Council is not the approving authority for any of the Amendment 49 sites but this will be done by the JDAPs. They rightly have rule-based approach to decisions and those rules for approval are clearly laid out in Amendment 49.

These comments are deeply disturbing, because, once again, the mayor is washing his hands of the council’s role in these sort of major developments. Again he is blaming the JDAP, when in fact it was his council which pushed through the controversial scheme amendment 49 despite the majority of the community being opposed, and it is his council which will write the report for JDAP and his council which has the opportunity to assess it at the planning committee stage and provide advice to JDAP.

As the Fremantle Society showed last week with its progressive and sustainable vision in its full page ad in the Fremantle Herald, the current council has failed to rejuvenate Fremantle with quality new developments. It must begin doing a much better job.

Ken Adam has made a number of important points above.

There is no doubt that the mayor and council are keen to push through as much development as fast as possible. There is every indication that the council will approve whatever Gerard O’Brien comes up with at the next iteration of the Coles Woolstores saga. Then O’Brien will have an approval for the biggest site in town along with the 6,000 sq m Police Complex site going to the planning committee next week with a recommendation for approval, the hastily approved Mannings Buildings site of 28 shops, and the unfinished Atwell Acade debacle.

On top of that, the other projects already approved and council’s own “Cultural Centre” around King’s Square will soak up more than the current demand from developers and the damage to the town’s architecture will have been done.

Then the people of Fremantle will ask for a debate on the quality of architecture. Too late my dears!

Book Launches

There will be a few book launches in the next few weeks.


You are invited to attend the launch of the book Henderson & Coy, Royal Engineers & the Convict Establishment Fremantle, WA, 1850-1872, published in 2017 by Dr Rob Campbell.
Date and time: Tuesday 6th March 2018, 6pm.
Venue: Cullity Gallery, UWA School of Design, The University of Western Australia – Nedlands Campus, Clifton Street entry.
RSVP UWA School of Design before Friday 2nd March 2018:
T: 6488 1881

New book: Henderson & Coy, by Rob Campbell, 2017.

It all started with the research into the Lunatic Asylum and the Prison buildings in Fremantle in the 1970s, which kindled an interest in the people who built these buildings, and was later developed into a PhD thesis on the whole of the work of the Convict Establishment (completed 2011). This work explored the complex story of the convict system, its architects, engineers and builders, and the buildings that came out of that process, an important contribution to the architectural character of our towns and the development of a building industry in WA.
Then in 2017, Rob turned these interesting stories in to a more accessible book. In his author’s preface Rob wrote: ‘There is the interaction of people rubbing along together while not always enjoying it; there are people who do not enjoy being ruled and over-ruled by remote control from England; there are those who take advantage of the tyranny of distance and a communication time-lapse of three months each way; and those who just get on with the job in difficult circumstances’.
The book will be launched by Simon Anderson, with a story of its production and a tribute by Ingrid van Bremen, at the UWA School of Design, Cullity Gallery. It will be accompanied by an exhibition of Rob Campbell’s key conservation projects through design and working  drawings, research reports, and photographs before, during and after, work on site.


You are invited to attend the launch of the book Yesterday’s Heroes, published in 2017 by Roundhouse Press (Fremantle Society member Allan Watson). Chris Carmody relives the golden era of Fremantle’s footballers and wharfies.

RSVP by Tuesday to 0409 371 674


You are invited to a book launch of the book Swan River Postcards, published in 2108 by Aussiana Books. John Dowson takes you on a journey down the river using original postcards.

Secret location and date to be announced soon.

Police Complex

The officer report on the Gerard O’Brien Police Complex development in Henderson Street, the site the council should have bought, goes to council planning committee next Wednesday with a recommendation for approval.

The Fremantle Society made a submission after consultation with architects such as Gerard McCann, officers from the National Trust, and the Heritage Council.

The Fremantle Society will study the officer report which wll go to JDAP after going through council, and it is available now online.

In the report officers argue that the 6th floor of the hotel should be deleted, but are allowing a 5th, despite the fact it is NOT set back as required by the rules, and despite the fact it is NOT consistent with the predominant existing scale, which rises after you go west across Henderson Street into the town, as the officer report admits.

There is a shortfall of 282 car bays, but these days council not only does not ask for cash in lieu for parking, but sells its own car parks.

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 ( and council (members 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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Manning Buildings/Brackson Construction/Precinct System/Coles Woolstore Development

Photographic Negative – Glass

Membership Dues


Membership fees are still low. But your renewal is crucial in keeping us active.

We are paying for expert reports to back our submissions up. We are spending many hours working with Society members, architects, property owners, councillors, staff and others to get the best possible commentary on important local issues. Some of the reports the Fremantle Society has done recently have taken dozens and dozens of hours to formulate. That costs you nothing, but when we need to get experts to add to our expertise, we are paying modest fees for that help. Your membership fees are due and we ask that you pay today if you have not done so already.

Our bank details: Bendigo Bank BSB 633 000
Account:  143193530

or, cheque please to PO Box 828 Fremantle WA 6160

Our vision for 2018 is to enable the community and council to achieve the best possible results through informed commentary.

Manning Buildings

Following our Letter to the Editor this week to the Herald about the Manning Building development, we contacted the two Fremantle Council members of JDAP who decided on the issue yesterday. This is what the president wrote:

Hi Rachel and Jon,

I understand you both will be on JDAP next Tuesday.

I cannot attend JDAP as I will be overseas on a lecture tour promoting Fremantle.

You have a copy already of the attached report done by the Fremantle Society. We have also printed colour copies and posted them to JDAP.

The report took a great deal of time and involved meetings with architects, tenants, councillors, and considerable research.

The more we look into the plans the more issues we find. We ask that you seek to have this deferred until there has been a site visit including all members of JDAP. JDAP should  not be making decisions on complex and important heritage sites without a site visit.

I realise you may not agree with our concerns, but there if the major issues such as reinstatement of original verandahs and original shopfronts are not going to be nailed down clearly, there are a few additional minor things we ask that you consider getting amendments for:

a) Archaeology: it is extraordinary that there is no requirement for an archaeological study for the demolition sites. There needs to be one.

b) Visibility of plant on the roof: Normal condition says ‘cannot be visible’ but the condition in this report said ‘cannot be highly visible’. The ‘highly’ should be removed.

c) the condition for documentation of demolition says ‘digital photographs‘ when in fact it should read ‘professional photographs’.

d) Social heritage of Shepherds and Norm Wrightsons: It doesn’t appear that the social heritage of Norm Wrightsons – in that location since 1933, or Shephers Newsagency – in that building for over 100 years – is appreciated or protected. No council officer visited either tenancy.

e) the tuck painting should be ‘tuck pointing’ as we point out in our report. In fact we received this this morning from a heritage construction company (who worked for example on the Commissariat and Elder Building):

HI John

(Re: Manning Buildings)

I have read over this report and you are bang on with respect to the Tuck pointing,

Tuck Painting should only be done when there is an interpretation of what has been lost forever,

ie, new wall that was damaged but reinstated, tuck painted to look original as much as practical…

Or an extension to a Heritage building, the extension should be tuck painted to “blend” however still show a point of difference with interpretation.

I am also upset at of the painting at the rear of of 7-9 William st

Especially if there were previous paintings or indicators of previous signage for the area

Sometimes the old signage itself can be the most significant part of the building.

While I support the art and décor of what some of the councils do, it is upsetting to assume that the paint that has been used is likely to be detrimental to the building fabric and cause an expedited breakdown of the wall fabric if the paint seals over Lime mortar

Old walls are lime based and need to breath or they decay rapidly

Perhaps it is as the tenants suggest, to hide/destroy the significance of the heritage

I like the art, Just not there…

especially if there were indicators or historical advertising that should have been restored not painted over

I also question if the Heritage council were aware of the walls being painted?

I know the local council are intrusted to look after some of these buildings, however if the persons in charge are not aware of what is needed to work on these buildings or the parameters they should be working too, then it is likely they will have someone who is the cheapest quote using the wrong materials in the name of saving a dollar for the council to make them look good.

(JDAP passed the plans with minor amendments, including requiring an archaeological study)

Brackson Construction Pty Ltd

It was Brackson Construction who provided the above comments. They are new members of the Fremantle Society, with a great deal of valuable experience in important heritage projects around Fremantle such as the Commissariat, Elder Building, and the Town Hall, to name just a few.

The Fremantle Society is keen to see good quality maintenance and restoration to heritage buildings and suggests contacting Bracksons for any queries:

Primary phone number      0484 763 077
Secondary phone number  0423 102 900


Precinct System

The Precinct system is up for review over the next few weeks. Given that it was the Fremantle Society who introduced the idea of a precinct system to Fremantle by getting Ted Mack from North Sydney over here to explain it, it is galling to see the council deliberately leave the Fremantle Society (and FICRA) off the list of precincts. Most precincts have been moribund or operating often to support the incumbent councillors, while the Fremantle Society (and FICRA) have been very active in engaging widely in the community.

Please consider making a submission which keeps the Fremantle Society and FICRA as part of the precinct system.

Coles Woolstores – Your Comments Urgently Requested

The dismal and dominating 38.9 metre high plans for the Coles Woolstores were put out for public comment at the end of last year and we sent you a copy of a report we commissioned from architect Ken Adam.

We urgently seek feedback (to from members about Ken’s report or the one the Fremantle Society submitted as well because there will be a special planning meeting of council next Wednesday at 6pm (North Fremantle Community Centre) to discuss the design criteria (not to assess the actual plans).