Change is inevitable…

CARL PAYNE is a retired architect and White Gum Valley resident. In this week’s Thinking Allowed he warns the very fabric which makes Freo the place many people choose to call ‘home’ is under threat.

CHANGE is inevitable.

Nothing ever stays the same. Cities are a prime example of this. But cities can control the nature of this change. 

Cities are populated by those who hold differing views on why they live in a particular locality. Those who were born there may be imbedded inside their habit of location. These persons may have no special emotional tie to the built environment of their home town. For them, it just IS. 

Others have come to a city for special and varying reasons. Within our city of Fremantle, there are many who have decided to make it their home because of its unique built qualities. These relate to the scale of the city – the buildings, the streets, the spaces created. They relate to the texture of the city – the special nature of the 19th century buildings and the number of them lining our streets. 

Some of these may be viewed as being relatively unremarkable but taken as a unified streetscape, the buildings coalesce into a built environment of such impressive form that the Fremantle West End was designated as a state heritage precinct in 2017.

Within all cities, the buildings, streetscapes and urban spaces evolve and change according to identified needs. The very best of these cities retain and maintain their important links to the past when these identified needs are in tune with the views of the majority of the inhabitants. Cities begin to lose their unified character when change is not generated by local preferences or understandings but by a perceived commercial advantage to the owners of the buildings or land holdings. 

…But it’s controllable

At this point, many will thump the table and cry, “a building or landowner should be free to develop whatever and however they want, within the established rules!” Very true. It’s the rules we are talking about. 

The behaviour of the authorities who both dictate and judge how these rules are structured and enforced is critical. It is crucial for us to understand the role of good contemporary architecture in contributing to change. This contribution can be positive, or negative. When it is appropriate and respectful, when it understands its effects on the existing townscape, it conserves and celebrates the special character and quality of our historic environments. 

When we recognise the importance of clever and sensitive design in contributing to the Fremantle we wish to continue to live in and to conserve for future generations, it’s clear that the decisions we make in assessing how change is managed are critical.

Regarding Fremantle, one aspect of appropriate building design that garners much attention is the vexed issue of the maximum height of new buildings.

It’s clear that the historic buildings which contribute mostly to the urban character of Fremantle, are two to three storeys, predominantly just two. 

Over the past few decades, development pressure has seen approvals for new buildings which are much higher than this. 

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