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.

AGM and Picture Palaces of the Golden West

Legend Vyonne Geneve, founder of the WA Art Deco Society, gave Fremantle Society members a real treat last Thursday night at the AGM with a talk focussing on the inter war history of Fremantle and its various art deco buildings.

A couple of copies of her wonderful book are still available ($60, which includes a free $35 copy of Fighting for Fremantle). Call John Dowson 9335 2113

The AGM showed that the Society is still in a strong financial position, with hundreds of members. President John Dowson outlined some of the many projects undertaken during the year and the many submissions made.

For 2018 John Dowson will continue as President, with Jack Turnbull as acting honorary treasurer, and a committee including Mike Finn, Agnieshka Kiera, Adele Gaskin, Robert Bodkin, and Ian Molyneux.

Submissions Due today on Police Complex

Yes, you have Christmas shopping to do, but you may want to make a submission today (or tomorrow should still be acceptable to on the 31-41 Henderson Street former courthouse and police courthouse and warders cottages complex.

Gerard O’Brien bought the large site of around 8000 sqm. He has rushed plans into council to get ahead of Sirona, who are apparently still running around  trying to get their money together. Gerard O’Brien of Silverleaf, with major plans for Coles Woolstore site, Mannings Buildings and the police complex, will be keen to get tenants ahead of his rival developers Sirona and the City of Fremantle.

The police complex proposal is for a 6 storey hotel and bars.

To help you, the following comments may be of use:

a) The 6 storey hotel proposal is too high for this heritage area and should be limited to 4 storeys. The developer references the Myer building, but that is too far away and is not a good precedent. Even the Queensgate car park opposite should not be used as a precedent, as it is a damaging anomoly in a heritage precinct.

b) The heritage impact statement prepared for the developer is deficient given this site lies in the buffer zone of the world heritage listed prison. It states that this proposal has POSITIVE benefits for the Fremantle Prison and approach but provides little supporting detail.

c) Effect on adjacent Artillery Hall: No mention is made in the heritage impact statement on the effect on the Artillery Drill Hall two metres from this site, where Sunset Events have a tavern licence for 900 people.

d) Parking: The number of car bays required under the town planning scheme are not being provided and nor is cash in lieu being asked for. Given that council is busy selling off its car parks and that most of them are being built on, the situation for essential parking is unsustainable. Existing businesses are being penalised by having newcomers take their car bays without having to contribute.

Lack of Good Public Consultation

The community is not being given a heads up on major developments and has very little time to respond. Fremantle Ports for example, despite having little interest in new developments in town, were asked back in October what they thought of this proposal. Key relevant interested groups like the Fremantle Society and the National Trust should be given notice of what is in the pipeline months ahead.

Membership Fees Due

Please pay your membership fees now.

BSB 633 000

Acc  143193530

(please note on your bank transfer some detail so we can identify you!)

We encourage you to consider becoming a Life Member for $250, but by sending in at least $30 for single and $40 for family membership you are enabling us to commission the reports that have become a major part of our work.

If you have a particular project you would like to see and would like to fund it, please contact us!

Compliments of the Christmas Season

John Dowson
The Fremantle Society

9335 2113