The world is righ in commercial projects that stimulate the senses and make the most of their surrounding environment. Western Australia's leading architects explore cities and enterprises from around the globe, highlighting why similar projects on our own shores could consolidate WA's image as the place to watch.
Park Place Tower, Dubai
Steve Woodland, Cox Howlett & Bailey Woodland
Perth’s next critical phase of reformation must be expressing and enriching our city as a place of creativity and inventiveness. While we have been doing the strain and pain on fundamental changes to our infrastructure, the challenge now is to properly capitalise on our new and emerging city as a place of creative worth.
We need to slip away from our conservative shackles, and be fresh and bold about the shaping of our city. We have an extraordinary canvas to work with and we must not miss the opportunity to use this time to take Perth forward as a remarkable and stimulating city.
This is about more than just buildings – it is the entire built fabric of our city, from towers in the sky to tables on the street.
For all its critics, Dubai has allowed an area of inventiveness in its architecture that has enabled it to explore a new identity. While there have been many losses to its street-and-people domain, there is an unquestionable energy in its relentless pursuit in testing building forms.
The Park Place Tower – the winning entry in a major international design competition – was conceived and inspired by the elegant, curvaceous form of a perfume bottle, one of our client’s favourite objects. This led to the sculpting of
a building around two petal-like elements that intertwined with the central core in plan. These forms of nature were extruded and curved in vertical form to create a unique, memorable silhouette. No one surface is flat, and no one surface is the same. It is a truly organic form for a building typology normally associated with harsh, rectilinear forms.
The building embraces the richness of mixed uses and activities. It is a vertical vessel containing workplace, living, short-stay accommodation and recreation. Rooftops are used as outdoor extensions for recreation, play and entertainment. These are all ingredients that we need to be adding into the mix of our city.
The crown of the tower provides an enclosure for a magnificent outdoor sky-deck looking out over the Gulf, and at night the building glows with a lantern-like quality, expressing its sensuous, sculptured form.
Good buildings, good cities are not partitions between people, but crucibles to bring people together. It means rethinking our built environment with a sense of creative narrative.
Perth and our community deserve a fresh approach where we forge a place that is playful and stimulating – a place of fondness and belonging. Under this, we will flourish.
Marina Bay, Singapore
Peter Dean, principal, HASSELL
As Perth’s architectural credibility continues to grow, it’s important to make sure we get the balance right by recognising what the best assets of our city are and activating our natural assets to encourage multi-generational human interaction.
With a climate and waterfront proximity similar to Perth, Marina Bay offers a successful example of Singapore’s long-term planning, and how innovative and creative projects can pave the way for city expansion and future growth around an historic setting.
Situated on 360ha of reclaimed land, the development provides visitors and locals alike with round-the-clock activities in a vibrant, mixed-use environment that incorporates commercial, residential, hotel and entertainment facilities.
High-rise and high-density buildings surrounding the Bay ensure that land is used effectively, much like other parts of Singapore, while the city skyline that serves as the backdrop offers stunning views both day and night.
The area is serviced by underground stations as part of the overall Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system – one of the cleanest forms of transport in the
world – while road extensions to the airport and city allow immediate access to the rest of the island.
An additional mode of transport around the Bay – one that doubles as a tourist attraction for scenic rides – is the water taxi network, and a comprehensive pedestrian system includes shady sidewalks, covered walkways, and underground and second-storey links.
Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority recently revealed 11 winning design ideas at the launch of its PubliCity: Your Ideas for Public Spaces exhibition. Winning concepts included a playful giant swing at an open lawn in Marina Bay, an elevated green deck at the Singapore River Promenade, and a garden walk with a forested steel canopy for the Woodlands Civic Plaza. The PubliCity initiative aims to involve the community in enlivening public spaces through innovative design – just another example of how a progressive and forward-thinking approach is the key to a city’s success.
Significant urban progress through developments such as Marina Bay has not
only raised the profile of Singapore on the international stage, it has also provided the city with growth and investment – something from which Perth and its surrounding areas can learn and benefit a lot.
Pearl River Tower, China
Kym MacCormac, MacCormac Architects
We have seen building designs shaped to suit the surrounding natural landscape, and building designs based on sustainability. The remarkable elements of the Pearl River Tower by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) combine both.
Incorporating the latest green technology and engineering advancements, the 213,700sqm Pearl River Tower is one of the world’s most energy-efficient skyscrapers. It was developed through an understanding of solar and wind patterns around the site, taking serious advantage of a commodity we have by the truckload in WA – wind.
The sculpted body of the south facing 309m-tall tower has been shaped to capitalise on the elements by facing the wind and directing it to a pair of openings at its mechanical floors. Travelling winds then push turbines that generate energy for the building. Photovoltaic panels also ensure heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems remain powered, while rotating, motorised louvres on the facade provide fresh-air ventilation and keep the building cool.
Solar panels, a double-skin curtain wall, a chilled ceiling system, under-floor ventilation, and daylight harvesting are a number of additional sustainable elements that warrant the recognition this building deserves for sustainability.
Perth is well known as a centre for yachting for very good reason – wind is a natural resource and is available in large amounts for most of the year. With our winter storms and the Fremantle Doctor in the summer afternoons, Perth is in a prime position to benefit from sustainable building elements similar to Pearl River Tower.
The city grid is inclined by about 15 degrees off north toward the east, so it would only require a slight deviation from the side boundaries for the southern face of any building to face a sculptured opening into the direction of the dominant wind.
This configuration makes a lot of sense if the acoustic concerns can be addressed, which has to be easier to achieve where the turbines are in an enclosed space rather than configured as exposed windmills.
Transit Oriented Development, Washington
Warren Kerr, Hames Sharley
Perth has many fine qualities and an enviable lifestyle. However, one of its most basic features – its ease of access to where we live, work and play – is in danger of being lost as the increasing population causes traffic congestion and extended commuting times.
No vision for a city ever includes spending more time commuting between key facilities. Until 2000, Perth was an easy place to get around. However, with 1500 new people arriving in Perth each week (in addition to population increase due to our natural growth), we need to solve the traffic problems created by this growth if we are to maintain the free-and-easy lifestyle we have enjoyed until now.
All the best cities in the world have a mixture of transport systems, including metro rail, light rail, buses, ferries, cars, bikes and good public spaces, which encourage pedestrians to walk.
With Perth’s population set to grow by more than three million people in the next 20 years, a 48 per cent increase in dwellings will be required to accommodate this growth. How can this be achieved? Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is part of the solution. These pedestrian-friendly and safe hubs are clustered around within easy walking distance of a transit station, and contain residential, retail and commercial uses at higher levels.
The Rosslyn-Ballston solution in Washington has emerged over 30 years, and has increased the densities in a 400m radius around the transit stops while leaving existing residential areas undisturbed. It has satisfied the need for the inner city areas of Washington to accept greater residential and employment densities. However, it provided the added benefit of increasing housing choice, which has allowed people to remain in the same area as their family dynamics changed.
Not only do TODs reduce dependence on cars, they also provide employment opportunities in close proximity to residential areas. They reduce peak-hour loads to and from the CBD, with employment, retail and recreation opportunities along the public transit route. Increased residential densities provide the opportunity for a greater house mix and choice for different family life-cycles, which leads to a greater personal investment and long-term commitment to the community.
Living near good public transport can reduce the proportion of household income spent on travel. Transport needs to be factored into the housing bundle, where the combined cost of place and transport defines the real cost of living.
Perth needs to learn from communities such as Rosslyn-Ballston if it is to envision a future not tainted by ever-increasing congestion.
The High Line, New York
David Karotkin, Sandover Pinder
While not directly transferable to WA’s landscape, the positive nature of the outcome of The High Line in New York is a great example of what can be achieved when a genuinely creative development process is allowed to happen.
The project is the conversion of a disused, elevated rail line in downtown New York City into a community park. The idea to repurpose the dilapidated viaduct as public open space, rather than demolish it, was initiated by a local residents group and received support from the City Mayor and the approval of the transport authority. The architectural team that was engaged for the conversion, Diller Scoffidio + Renfro, is an interdisciplinary design studio that integrates architecture, the visual arts, and the performing arts.
The success of the High Line project is linked to the fact that it is a response to an opportunity identified by the community rather than just a reaction to a community need provided by a local authority. From a heritage point of view, the retention of a significant piece of city infrastructure has resulted in a mechanism for interpreting the history of the place that it inhabits, and acts to connect the generations that live around it. This is despite the fact there was no obvious use for the viaduct, and that the viaduct itself is not an attractive part of the urban landscape.
The creative repurposing of disused built infrastructure has avoided unnecessary demolition and instead created a unique community space that could only come from an evolutionary process rather than from a new project. As a result, locals feel more connected to their community. Property prices have increased, private developers are incorporating the viaduct into their projects, and the High Line is being extended.
While we don’t have disused viaducts in WA to which to transfer the High Line project, it is the process that allows and encourages members of the public to identify and promulgate creative opportunities that build stronger communities by repurposing redundant built infrastructure. The results can enhance our understanding of the heritage of places, and make more sustainable use of valuable resources rather than demolishing buildings only to start again with new ones.
Effective engagement with the public is a difficult task to manage, especially in a bureaucratic development environment, however the benefits that can be achieved extend well beyond the built form to deliver safer, healthier and happier communities that care for their public.
Pixelated Cities, Christchurch
Mark Mitcheson-Low, Woods Bagot
In the past, planners have traditionally segregated different uses into separate zones. The effect of this grouping is a stratification of communities, where people work, live, manufacture, and play, with little opportunity for cross-pollination. The residential area is segregated from the commercial hub; the manufacturing zone is distant from the entertainment district; the retail precinct is separate from the convention and exhibition node; and so on. But this can discourage diversity, it can stifle innovation, it can stagnate progression, and it can de-activate the ground plane.
So, instead of stratifying, Woods Bagot has found more success in pixelating. Woods Bagot has studied the most liveable cities around the world – the most competitive, innovative and interesting – and observed that they have developed consistently over time without the rigidity of planning segregation. These cities pixelate uses at the street level (horizontally) and above street level (vertically). This allows activation, excitement and socialisation – the types of characteristics that enable a museum to be stumbled upon rather than having to travel to a designated cultural precinct.
Woods Bagot is constantly striving to understand the mechanisms that make a city great, and is currently involved in discussions with Columbia University for involvement in such a global programme. As one example, following the devastating earthquakes in Christchurch in 2010 and 2011, Woods Bagot worked closely with a number of design firms as part of the Blueprint 100 Consortium to create a masterplan strategy to rebuild and regenerate the Christchurch CBD. Woods Bagot was a key member of the Blueprint 100 Consortium that also included Boffa Miskell, RCP, Warren and Mahoney, and Populous.
The focus of the Christchurch Blueprint 100 was to produce a long-term vision on the recovery of the heart of the city and region, as well as on addressing pre-existing issues evident within central Christchurch prior to the earthquakes.
A city is not made great through its building fabric and aesthetics alone – but through the pixelation of uses that encourages diversity, spurs innovation, promotes progression, and activates the city as exciting and liveable 24 hours a day.
Leca da Palmeira Swimming Baths, Portugal
James Thompson, McDonald Jones Architects
Perth is set upon and around an incredible set of natural landscapes, but there are very few locations in which architecture has been allowed the freedom to be integrated within them.
As Perth grows more dense, we need greater opportunities for leisure and recreation, and we should not be scared to allow responsible and sympathetic development on our shorelines.
The Leça de Palmeira swimming baths and Boa Nova Tea House in Porto, Portugal, are two projects that demonstrate the architect’s intimate familiarity with the landscape through seamless integration with its rock formations, ocean and coastal vegetation. Designed by Alvaro Siza, both projects lie next to a busy road – much like the edge condition we face along Marine Parade and West Coast Drive – yet Siza has been mindful of separating the user’s experience from the road without blocking views.
The architecture of each project is robust, considered and respectful of its landscape, and plays a game of deny and reveal, where the shoreline and horizon are hidden at some points and then dramatically exposed at others. This ensures users recognise elements of the landscape that they may have never noticed before.
The opportunities created by projects like these are especially relevant for visitors and residents who want to enjoy the experience of these landscapes but desire the comfort of not being exposed to waves, weather conditions and marine life.
Perth has ample locations where such projects could work, and ideally every 15km along the coast we should have access to these facilities. In the case of public ocean baths, it would be great to cleverly integrate lighting to allow night swimming, and to subtly wash the limestone formations with reflected light.
Edwin Bollig, Bollig Design Group
Most people have experienced quality design, and their common reaction is to ask why we can’t have something similar in Perth. Project outcomes and design should be fit for a place locationally, environmentally and culturally. For this reason, transporting a singular building would not work in Perth, but the aspiration to achieve design excellence should be at the core of our thinking.
That being said, what we need in Perth is a refocusing in terms of design appreciation and its ability to inspire and enhance quality of life – physically, functionally and emotionally.
Perth is unique and should emulate the expectation for the quality of design outcomes in a way that is appropriate for its locational context. The first step would be to support design professionals such as architects, landscape architects and town planners as the preferred designers of the built environment, and empower them to create vibrant urban environments. How many people have heard it said, “Why can’t Perth be more like Melbourne?”, where the design culture is central to lifestyle but one specifically that represents Melbourne values? We need a design culture that reflects Perth values.
One area that we find Perth lacking in is our support of art. New York’s Guggenheim and MOMA, Paris’s Louvre and Pompidou Centre, and London’s Tate Modern all embody architectural outcomes that set a benchmark and reflect an expectation to have and to espouse artistic outcomes.
While not all buildings can be as iconic as these examples, it is the striving for
excellence that matters. Hopefully, over time, the community’s expectation that this will occur as a mandatory part of the procurement process for buildings and urban environments will encourage change. Ultimately, it is a cultural and educational influence that will permeate the greater community, leading to a better living environment.