One of the world’s biggest fringe festivals, a stunning street art scene and key regulatory changes have been hailed as catalysts for Perth’s progression from dullsville into a destination.
Perth’s indigenous and European cultural history is being illustrated and celebrated in architecture new and old.
The revitalisation of the Perth Cultural Centre has been the catalyst for architects and planners to tap into Western Australia’s rich cultural history when creating new buildings.
That’s the view of Ink Strategy director Carla Chatzopolous, who has been at the forefront of the placemaking movement in Perth.
The state government initiated a comprehensive redevelopment scheme of the PCC in 2009, embracing the history of the site by converting a concrete water feature into a native wetland and essentially creating a cultural heart for the city.
Ms Chatzopolous said the transformation was the first time the functions of the cultural institutions around the centre – the State Library of Western Australia, the Art Gallery of WA, the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, the WA Museum and the State Theatre Centre – had been externalised and celebrated in a public setting.
“It was almost like the rise of the cultural festival movement sprang from that,” Ms Chatzopolous told Business News.
“It also made the whole cultural offering for Perth a lot more accessible, by blurring the lines between activation and event offerings.
“It took it from being perceived as stuff that happens behind closed doors in a gallery setting to stuff that you can experience walking through the city.”
Ms Chatzopolous said the placemaking focus that was instituted in the PCC’s redevelopment was not simply being replicated for other precincts, it was also evolving as developers and landowners sought to create a more authentic experience for people.
She said the starting point of any planning process was to examine the cultural history of a place, and how that could be interpreted in the built form.
“People talk about cultural precincts as expressing the soul of the city,” Ms Chatzopolous said.
“People want to discover, so creating places that connect to people gives them a sense of discovery.
“There is so much more focus on indigenous storytelling now, which I think is really great, but it’s where you absolutely need to start.
“The process is as important as the outcome. It’s about identifying who are the important families and tribes and bringing those people together in a collaborative way and making sure there is a partnership journey that’s established, not just a narrative or a storytelling journey.
“To do that early, it gives you the opportunity to integrate that into the formative aspects of the project – the urban design, the landscaping and the built form – not just the public art and events and those sorts of things.”
In the east end of the city, Historic Heart project manager Sandy Anghie is leading an initiative to help the current generation better connect with the past.
The Historic Heart program was the brainchild of developer Adrian Fini and was established two years ago in an effort to revitalise the neglected eastern end of the CBD.
“Basically when Mr Fini was building the State Buildings, he saw how run down the east end of the city was with social problems, empty shops, and just general lack of life,” Ms Anghie told Business News.
“He made a commitment to himself that when he finished the project he would apply the same model that he used for Cathedral Square to the entire east end.”
Ms Anghie said Historic Heart had evolved from a series of streetscape improvements and public art installations to incorporate several self-guided walking tours, each of which reveal different cultural elements in architecture.
“The east end has Perth’s greatest collection of heritage buildings. We’ve got Perth’s oldest building, in the old Courthouse Law Museum, that functioned as our first court, our first school, and our first community hall,” Ms Anghie said.
“There is also Perth’s first fire station, its first hospital, the Town Hall; all of these major public buildings were concentrated here.
“What we have been doing is celebrating what we have.
“People are interested in history and heritage and I know myself and many of my friends, when you’re away on holiday you seek out history and heritage and go to the old neighbourhoods and cities, and we’ve got that here in Perth for people to enjoy.
“It is about the importance of our history and heritage, and celebrating that.
“In the past Perth had a reputation for knocking down really great buildings, but we’re kind of lucky in a way that there is so much in the east end that’s been left untouched.”