Controlling change

Part 2 of CARL PAYNE’S response to plans for a hotel on the Spicer site in Fremantle

SOME of this pressure has come from development approval assessors taking height cues for new buildings from our old wool stores buildings. In turn, this has established new height precedents which are creating six storey buildings in places where a six storey building may be inappropriate in townscape terms. 

It’s in these cases that we need our regulators; our council and others, to act appropriately and with a firm view on preserving the special nature of Fremantle. This is their solemn responsibility.

A new streetscape form can quite quickly create a new norm for all future development. Suddenly our streets become canyons. 

When a new norm of six storeys is established, a compromise to four levels becomes somehow acceptable, when even this lessened height is still detrimental to the streetscape when viewed as a whole.

The proposed new building on the corner of Henderson Street and William Street is an example of this.

It takes its cues from recent high commercial approvals within Fremantle, as well as from the excessively high modern carpark building across William Street.

It proposes five levels on Henderson Street and six levels on William Street. This is despite it directly facing the old Warders Cottages in Henderson Street, which are two storey and domestic in scale, form and texture. And despite these cottages being the only residences in WA rare enough to be on the National Heritage list. 

America’s Cup

During planning for Fremantle’s hosting of the America’s Cup in the mid-eighties, council’s then director of planning Jeremy Dawkins, in considering this corner redevelopment site as part of Fremantle council policy, wrote the following: “Three or four storeys would be appropriate provided that the approved height on Henderson Street is kept to two storeys”. 

The proposal ignores this advice and seeks to impose a new building that will be over twice the height of the Warders Cottages. 

I have yet to make a comment on the actual architecture of the proposed hotel. The plans I have seen on the council webpage indicate huge exposed round columns, perhaps a metre or so in diameter. If this is the case, I would ask the building designers to reflect on the monumental nature of this proposed 

design solution. There are no appreciable built precedents in Fremantle.

By way of contrast, the new Fremantle library and civic core is an example of modern design that is reasonably well-mannered. 

It creates contemporary architecture that respects heritage forms, scale and texture. It sits beside our Town Hall, but doesn’t compete with it, nor try to replicate it. (This is not to say that site planning and all elements are wholly successful). 

On a smaller scale, 11 Cliff Street also presents another approach to contemporary design using sympathetic scale and materiality. Both of these projects present examples of modest, appropriate and new architecture.

Incremental destruction of Fremantle’s built environment continues. Boiling frogs are we. Our council needs to take a stand which reflects the crucial importance of why we love our city.

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