13/01/2011 - 00:00

Edifices and other extravagances

13/01/2011 - 00:00


Save articles for future reference.

Every era has buildings that come to define the period.

WHEN the history of the ‘noughties’ is written, one of the defining images of the decade is sure to be the Oswal family’s extravagant mansion in Peppermint Grove.

Currently half built and likely to never be completed, the Oswal house had a rumoured cost of $70 million.

Now on the market, there is talk the property will sell for its land value closer to $40 million, since the new owner, whoever that may be, is likely to demolish the current structure and sub-divide the enormous block.

That reminds us of another mansion that came to define an earlier decade – Lang and Rose Hancock’s Prix d’Amour in Mosman Park, which was part of the tour bus circuit during the 1980s and 1990s but is now the site of several smaller homes.

Both houses are examples of individuals making ostentatious displays of wealth, though the Oswals’ Indian heritage and wealthy backgrounds make their case very different from the ‘new money’ from the mining sector that tends to fund many other big houses around Perth.

The Oswals’ property was built on the famous – or should that be infamous – super block assembled by property developer Warren Anderson in the 1980s.

Mr Anderson’s ambitions led to the demolition of many charming and stylish smaller houses to make way for one very large block that he was never able to develop.

His practice was mimicked by the late Laurie Connell, who assembled his very own super block in Dalkeith.

Their ‘achievements’ pale into insignificance when compared to the giant ‘hole in the ground’ that sat behind the old WA Newspapers building on St Georges Terrace for many years.

A relic of the 1980s property boom that bequeathed buildings such as the Bankwest Tower, Central Park and QV1 to the city, the hole in the ground was an eyesore that was developed only when the resources boom of the past decade took hold.

The world’s largest resources company, BHP Billiton, has underwritten the development of the City Square building on that site, by committing to lease most of the property.

City Square will change the Perth skyline, forcing a reworking of those tourism logos that featured what had been the city’s three tallest buildings.

It is fitting that BHP Billiton is the company that will occupy the building, because it symbolises the increasing importance of multinational companies in Western Australia.

BHP, Rio Tinto and Chevron – along with local companies Woodside and Fortescue Metals Group – are some of the largest investors in WA and are driving the resources boom.

Many people hope BHP will shift its global headquarters from Melbourne to Perth, to be nearer to many of its operating assets.

Whether or not that happens, the global resources giants are shifting more people into Perth.

It’s a long way from the 1980s, which was defined by buildings like BankWest Tower – known originally as Bond Tower after its developer, Alan Bond – and another of his projects, Observation City in Scarborough.

When we think about legacies, Observation City has had a lasting, and negative, impact on Perth because it has set back the cause of sensible coastal development for decades.

Whenever there is a discussion about improving the drab, run-down sections of coastline with some smart, new medium-rise developments, critics immediately point to Observation City and liken any development to a mini Gold Coast.

Perhaps it’s more useful to look back at earlier periods, such as the 1890s gold rush, when money was invested in civic buildings that still stand proudly in places like Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie, even parts of Perth.

They are investments that have stood the test of time. How many structures erected in recent years will be around in 100 years?



Subscription Options