23/12/2021 - 10:07

Hassell principal’s Perth master plan

23/12/2021 - 10:07


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A top architect says Perth should be developed according to a singular vision from local and state authorities.

Hassell principal’s Perth master plan
Peter Lee sees and urgent need for a singular plan for Perth. Photo: David Henry.

Combining creativity and business acumen has formed the basis of Peter Lee’s success.

As state principal of global architecture firm Hassell, Mr Lee played a key role in bringing the firm to Western Australia.

He entered the profession in 1979, starting his own design business with two fellow graduates from the West Australian Institute of Technology, now Curtin University.

As a young architect, Mr Lee received the Cameron Chisholm Nicol design award for his thesis on disabled work and accommodation.

This accolade caught the attention of WA architect Ken Bell, who brought Mr Lee on at his and Howard Puddy’s firm, Bell Puddy Australia, in 1980. During the market downturn of 1987, the company split as Mr Bell left BPA, and the Puddy Lee partnership was formed.

“I had been the design guy, so that’s my skill, but then I had to learn about business because we were in financial trouble,” Mr Lee told Business News.

“In 1987, when I took over owning half the company, we had to trade out of a very tough time.” Seven years later, the pair took over Melbourne-based Spowers: the second oldest architectural firm in Australia, which was established in 1896.

In 2004, Hassell and Spowers merged, marking Hassell’s move into WA.

Hassell was a 1938 firm that was everywhere except for Perth,” Mr Lee said.

“They came and spoke to us and we had already been doing a joint venture with them on the Perth and Esplanade underground railway stations and on a bid for the Perth law courts, so it made sense.”

Mr Lee was appointed international director as the merger was established, and only stepped down from his position on Hassell’s board in 2020, after 16 years.

“It is time for me to move on and let younger people come through [and] just concentrate on doing the work,” he said.

“It is the first time since 1983 that I haven’t been a director of a company that I’m working on.”

Mr Lee still sits on the boards of Rottnest Island Authority, low-income housing program Foundation Housing, architecture festival Open House Perth, and independent not-for-profit group FORM, continuing his engagement in WA’s design community.

His passion for helping the community stemmed from his childhood. Mr Lee’s father was the first administrative director of the (then) WA alcohol and drug authority, dedicated to helping people with substance abuse.

Mr Lee wrote in The Architect magazine that his father was often out in the middle of the night to bail someone out or intervene, so people could get help rather than be locked up.

“[He] was also a champion of creating safe, secure housing so people could get a chance to change their lives,” he said.

“I have always had an interest in caring for people.”


Hassell’s Perth office is best known for its work on Optus Stadium and the WA Museum, both globally renowned developments.

It also designed Perth’s Brookfield Place, and is overseeing Elizabeth Quay lots five, six and the Chevron building on lot seven, Fremantle’s King Square, and Murdoch Health and Knowledge Precinct.

Mr Lee, who was appointed a life fellow of the Australian Institute of Architects in 2019, said he thrived when working on large-scale developments.

“I think a lot of the big projects are really important to the city as they can improve the city to a larger extent than small projects,” he said.

Mr Lee said he enjoyed being able to design entire precincts rather than individual, smaller buildings. Hassell’s work on the Perth Zoo master plan with Iredale Pederson Hook sets out a 20-year plan for the world-class attraction.

The firm is also working on master plans for Burswood and Langley Park.

Initially set on a career in town planning, Mr Lee said he was drawn to architecture for its potential to change the environment over a long period.

“I was going to be a town planner. I thought back then it would make sense to do architecture for three years before doing the planning degree. I just fell in love with architecture,” he said.

“There are things that we do that can improve the human condition [and] when we get to do that, it is really important.”

Internationally, Hassell has worked on the Alibaba headquarters and Panda Land in China, both of which have received global recognition for their design excellence.

The firm was commissioned to design a human habitat on Mars as part of a design challenge for NASA in 2019. The pod-like housing design featured the use of regolith dust from Mars as building material. “Perth is about 10 per cent of Hassell,” Mr Lee explained.

“When you think about seeing the guys work on telling NASA how they could use regolith dust and 3D printing to create a habitat on Mars, it’s just spectacular.

“There are all sort of amazing things going on; we shake our heads every time we get presentations from places, not just here.”

Hassell won a national award for public architecture for its work on Optus Stadium. 


In Mr Lee’s view, Perth should be developed according to a singular vision from local and state authorities.

“An overall city master plan needs to be developed quite urgently, and the city needs to really refocus itself about a place with a lot more residents, and a bigger focus on culture,” he said.

Mr Lee echoed Committee for Perth chief executive Marion Fulker’s view that the city had to “earn the commute” of residents.

“To come into the city, rather than just go to your suburban shopping centre or near home, it has to be worthwhile,” Ms Fulker said.

“I think ECU and what the government’s doing with the [Perth] City Deal is an excellent start; it’s recognition that the city’s the front door to the state.”

A City of Perth spokesperson said the WA Planning Commission approved the city’s local planning strategy for community consultation in early November.

“This is the first time the city has had a planning strategy,” the spokesperson said.

“Once finalised, it will be one of the key guiding documents for the growth of Perth city over the next 10 to 15 years.”

The City of Perth and state government are working together as part of the $1.5 billion Perth City Deal, which includes the $695 million Edith Cowan University campus in the CBD.

A spokesperson for Planning Minister Rita Saffiotti said the Perth City Deal included a number of key components, including the ECU campus and upgrades to major cultural facilities.

“The new university will bring thousands of students into the city each day, and will also support other developments like more student housing,” the spokesperson said.

The state government said it strongly endorsed the view that Perth needed a bigger residential population, which would ensure greater activity and support local business.

“In relation to the master plan, we agree that we need to work together to establish a joint plan for the city,” the spokesperson said.

“The Perth City Deal involves a commitment for the WA government and the City of Perth to work together to develop a long-term strategic plan for Perth.”


Mr Lee said labour shortages and cost escalations during COVID-19 were having a direct impact on architecture firms.

“We are doing a lot of design work, but construction prices are up about 20 per cent, [so] there will be problems for builders for a while,” he said.

“Until we get some immigration and prices for apartments move up, that amount there’ll be a slow move.”

Mr Lee said major developers had shelved a number of projects, believing market conditions were too risky, which could mean reduced workloads for architects.

“A lot of projects will be put at risk or need to be moved out, because there are not people to build,” he said.

“We’ve got people to draw them, which is great.”

Mr Lee added that, while Hassell had turned down some work in the past 12 months due to high demand, he was reluctant to build his Perth team, currently at about 100, because of a potential slowdown.

“Usually we can find people if we’re looking, but we are not wanting to jump in and expand because I do think things will slow down because of capacity,” he said



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