Exceptional debate

A FORMER chair of Fremantle council’s planning committee says its current members are floundering when it comes to judging “exceptional” architecture, just when they need to be at the top of their game for the city’s “most significant” development in decades.

Gerry MacGill, who sat on the planning committee from 1980 and chaired it from 1985 until he retired in 1988, sat in on a recent special committee meeting to discuss the 10-storey redevelopment of the Woolstores shopping centre, and says he came away worried at where things were going.

“The planning committee members are struggling with the concept of exceptional design quality, and why wouldn’t they?” he wrote to mayor Brad Pettitt after the meeting.

“That’s an architects’ picnic, and whilst the use of Corten cladding, etc, is important, there are many other considerations, of at least equal importance, and that the councillors are eminently qualified to make a judgement on, that are being neglected.”

The “exceptional design” clause was included in the council’s controversial Amendment 49 to the city’s planning scheme in 2012, giving developers extra height if their CBD buildings were judged top-notch.

But Mr MacGill says while getting bogged down in detail, councillors aren’t paying enough attention to how developments integrate with the surrounding streetscape and nearby buildings, particularly in regard to their scale, massing and height.

Disappointed

“The city has enough technology at its disposal to show the impact of the development from all angles and from near and far, so let’s see it and allow an informed judgement to be made on whether it merits consideration for its ‘distinctive architectural design and exceptional design quality,” he says.

Mr MacGill said he was disappointed to see detailed submissions on the Woolstores development by prominent Perth architects Ken Adam and Malcolm Mackay brushed aside by councillors.

Mr Adam, an architect for 50 years, was damning in his feedback on the design: “If the application were approved, in my opinion the game, for the future of Fremantle, will have been lost, and the detail hardly matters.”

While Mr Adam agrees with the proposed mixed use (currently a 141-room hotel, 262-room student accommodation, restaurant, 155-bed retirement village, 799-bay car park, offices and shops) he says its simply too tall to fit in with the neighbourhood and isn’t exceptional enough to warrant the height bonuses.

“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,” Mr Adam said.

“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.”

Mr MacGill also cautioned the city about approving the development in stages, as detailed plans for one of the towers isn’t part of the current application, as  owner Silverleaf Investments is still in negotiations with an aged care provider.

by STEVE GRANT

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