Time to take a breath

SASHA IVANOVICH is a Fremantle architect. With the shine wearing off WA’s apartment market amid talk of a national glut, he says the time’s ripe for rethinking the local council’s approach to densifying the city’s CBD.

WITH pressure for high rise apartment planning approvals easing, there’s an opportunity to review Fremantle’s high rise planning policy and consider if it can be improved, particularly in the CBD.

Fremantle remains not just a nationally, but a globally unique destination because of its geographic features; the confluence of river and ocean, rich ethnic mix and diversity of cultures, its harbours, beaches and working port, but also for its fresh, well-preserved ‘prints’ of Australian history, its cultural monuments (including Fremantle Prison) and its architecture.

If Fremantle is reinventing itself to safeguard its commercial prosperity, planning guidelines should include mechanisms that continue to enhance these assets.

The guidelines should protect its urban character and streetscape, and give respect to the existing culturally valuable heritage context. In assessing developments, particularly five- to eight-storey proposals, the first question should be about how they positively affect the city’s character, which in Freo’s centre is strongly defined by its two- to four-storey urban form.

Other issues such as overshadowing, overlooking, scale and general amenity shouldn’t be overlooked either.

Mixing the new with the old has been common practice in revitalising historical centres around the world. It works, providing expert knowledge is applied to ensure the heritage fabric is not diminished, and is indeed enhanced by infill.

It is often that the setting of heritage buildings needs to be preserved, extending beyond a building to a street, precinct or whole city centre.

In overseas examples, such as central Paris, a height limit of about five to six storeys is uniformly applied. In Barcelona, a uniformity of scale is strongly defined by a six-storey height limit relative to street width, reinforced by a boulevard which is often lined with trees.

Together they define the strength of the city’s urban character and a sense of comfort relative to human scale.

Perth’s planning policy, several decades old, calls for tall buildings to be set back from the street above two- to three-storeys. Vincent council, subject to extensive densification and redevelopment recently, resulting in four- to five-storey (and taller) buildings in a two- to three-storey context, has equally demanded response to context – setting back tall buildings when required.

On small city lots such setbacks can be difficult to achieve. Then a change of building fabric can be applied, to clearly demonstrate and distinguish what is below four storeys and what is above.

Similar criteria should be applied to central Fremantle.

So far, as is evidenced by a recent pending approval for a new eight-storey proposal at 52 Adelaide Street, setbacks to upper storeys and controls in relation to street/height limits have not been adequately addressed. The problem of assessing these types of proposals is often confounded by a lack of information about context – either from developers or the council.

This is surprising when, new digital technology makes modelling of a cityscape has become relatively easy .

52 Adelaide Street (still under review) and future similar applications should well heed the forthcoming WA design guidelines for ‘multiple – dwellings (apartments):

“Good design provides development with massing and height that is appropriate to its setting and successfully negotiates between existing built form and the intended future character of the local area. Good design achieves an appropriate built form by responding to its site, as well as surrounding built fabric, in a considered manner, mitigating negative impacts on the amenity of neighbouring properties and public realm.”

(WA) Planning Policy No. 7.3 ‘Residential Design Codes – Guidance for multiple-dwelling and mixed-use developments’


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