There is something nostalgic about heritage buildings and a great sense of character. When the late-or very early-sun light enhances that feeling there is a sense of magic about it also. I love wandering through Fremantle’s beautiful West End and feel that connection with history and the early settlers.
I took these two photos early this evening on my way to Bathers Beach.
I have been going to as many Fremantle Council and committee meetings as I can for some years now because I enjoy watching the democratic process of local government. It is very hands on and personal with people making presentations about developments that affect and might change their life, and it is good to see that all Councillors and officers take their duties very serious and are equally and sincerely respectful to proponents and opponents.
Last night’s Planning Services Committee had to deal with a particular dilemma of approving or not of a modern building located between two buildings of significant heritage value in Tuckfield Street. At the end of a long discussion, and after the owners and neighbours had their say, it was decided to defer the matter to get more advise from the heritage coordinator of the City.
Respect for heritage and the overall streetscape should always be a major component of any planning approval in a character city like Fremantle, but we should not have the attitude that a modern building should not be built in a heritage landscape. If we did we would end up with kitch, unattractive mock-heritage buildings.
However Councillors should not make decisions on a what if basis either. The what if we don’t approve this and get something worse argument by the Mayor was rightly dismissed by the Deputy Mayor, but I can understand the dilemma Brad Pettitt recognised.
Everyone agreed that the proposed building is of great modern design, but that it might not be right for the location because of its overpowering impact on the streetscape and the neighbouring heritage buildings. It dominates the streetscape rather than supporting it said Councillor Ingrid Waltham.
So how does one decide as a Councillor? Personal taste should not apply and Councillors Josh Wilson and Jon Strachan rightly said they had to take the advise of the experts, the City’s planning and heritage officers, who recommended the application to be rejected. Maybe Councillor Andrew Sullivan’s suggestion to lower the building by a bit over half a meter could be looked into as a compromise.
Old and new and juxtaposition of heritage and modern will always be an issue in certain locations. I believe it was sensitively dealt with in the new office building under construction at Cliff Street and designed by Murray Slavin Architects, but I am sure it will still be controversial because some people might not like it or feel it is inappropriate between two heritage buildings.
Council should respect the advise of their officers as they are the planning and architectural experts and most Councillors are not. As a community we also need to be very careful though that we don’t reject great modern design in an old street. The world has always been an evolving place where architecture and design tastes change and where we were so happy to get rid of some of the atrocious sixties designs and replace them with more considerate and beautiful architecture.
It is a huge challenge to get it right for Fremantle, so somehow I hope a compromise can be found that will allow a modified version of the proposed building to go ahead. Rejecting it only because it would be a modern building sandwiched between heritage buildings would be wrong in my opinion, but its impact on the streetscape needs to be less severe.
Whatever Council decide some people will not be happy.
There is an interesting opinion piece in today’s West Australian by UWA’s Dr Stephen Neille on how we need to design our cities. It is something I and others have written about on this blog as it is in my opinion absolutely essential for Fremantle to only erect new buildings in the inner city that are distinct in architectural design and high building quality.
Dr. Neille quotes US urbanist Michael Sorkin that “each city has the right to elaborate the basis of its own distinctness” and he argues that “in order to maintain urban vitality it is necessary to elaborate on the design of the city and its evolving form”
I don’t believe we do that well in Western Australia, and Fremantle does it even less than Perth. There is a sense of piecemeal haphazardness in the way our cities evolve with little respect or reference to existing streetscapes and buildings. Urban planning should be about the whole, not individual buildings, because a single inappropriate building can do infinite damage to the urban landscape and identity.
As Dr. Neille writes in the West, it needs careful curation to create consciously designed environments to explicitly connect the city to its settings, to help celebrate the city’s character.
For me that balance of old and new, heritage and modern, but always exceptional buildings, is vital to Fremantle’s growth and progress and to maintain the uniqueness of our city.
Only metres away from one another Fremantle shows all sides of life; the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The big pots with trees as part of the Streetscape Enhancement Trial are a great idea and an immediate improvement.
But the ugly banners hanging between the posts of the just renovated Fremantle Markets at Jus Burgers should be removed. How many signs does it take to sell burgers and chips?
To make it worse we also have the fenced off heritage listed Warders Cottages in Henderson Street. A really ugly sight that state government should address with urgency!