06/11/2019 - 10:18

Identity through architecture

06/11/2019 - 10:18

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The new chair of Woods Bagot’s Perth studio wants to bring a distinctly local focus to the global architecture firm.

Identity through architecture
Kukame McPierzie says in the last half decade Perth has begun to establish a distinctly unique local identity through architecture. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

The new chair of Woods Bagot’s Perth studio wants to bring a distinctly local focus to the global architecture firm.

Having worked on two of Perth’s most recognisable and publicly debated projects of recent years, Kukame McPierzie understands the pressure of community expectations.

Mr McPierzie, who was earlier this year named the state’s best emerging architect by the Western Australian Institute of Architects, recently joined Woods Bagot from local boutique firm Gresley Abas Architects.

But it was in an earlier role, at Melbourne-based studio ARM Architecture, where he made a lasting impact on Perth architecture.

At ARM, Mr McPierzie was one of the leading designers behind the development of Elizabeth Quay, and also played a small role in helping to create the irregular geometric shapes of RAC Arena.

During construction of those projects, debate swirled around their look, their cost, and the wisdom (or otherwise) of the state government’s investment.

Once both were complete, however, the projects were widely celebrated as a key catalyst in helping shift the perception of Perth from dull west coast outpost to an exciting, modern city, even with Elizabeth Quay yet to reach its full potential.

“I remember the complexity, there was so much media and so many people who were angry about it, it was difficult to get the message out that Elizabeth Quay was going to be okay,” Mr McPierzie told Business News.

“It’s huge pressure, but at the end of the day it comes down to the design.

“If your design idea is good enough, it will stand up to scrutiny.

“Everyone will have an opinion on everything, particularly when buildings are out in the public realm, but if you get the design right, if you get the fundamentals right, it will stand the test of time.

“There is always that moment of magic or uncertainty when you’re seeing something built and it’s coming to life, and that can be terrifying but also super-satisfying.

“That’s the magic of architecture, that’s why we do it.”

Mr McPierzie, a graduate of The University of Western Australia, said harnessing local passion, whether criticism or praise, as well as local character, and applying it to prominent public infrastructure projects such as Elizabeth Quay or RAC Arena was one of his highest priorities as the new chair of Woods Bagot’s local studio.

“I’m from here and we understand this place,” Mr McPierzie said.

“That could be a little bit of a shift; perhaps Woods Bagot hasn’t engaged as much with the local industry in recent times, but that’s something that we’re shifting really quickly.

“We are here and we want to be engaged here; we’re a global studio but we’re a local studio.

“Perth is different; we’re not about bringing in Melbourne, Sydney, New York or Singapore.

“We can take the best bits of that but we also need to infuse it with our real local knowledge.

“No one project is the same, every project is bespoke and every project is specific to its place.

“Design then comes out of that – having a willingness to tap into those local stories is the difference.

“For our studio, that’s our opportunity here.”

Mr McPierzie said a key factor in Perth’s contemporary architecture industry was the emergence of a clear identity, with designers across the city, not just at Woods Bagot, increasingly embracing a local context.

He said the common perception in Perth 15 years ago was that the WA capital was inferior to Melbourne or Sydney in terms of architectural design, liveability and vibrancy.

But with a series of high-profile projects changing the face of Perth, Mr McPierzie said that perception was slowly fading.

“Perth has grown up in the last 15 years, through projects such as Yagan Square and Northbridge Link, Elizabeth Quay, Optus Stadium – we’ve actually got credibility here,” he said.

“I think the question that Perth is asking itself is what does Perth want to be and where do we want to go in our future?

“I really feel the city is at a point in its life cycle where it is starting to have its own identity.

“We don’t have to be Melbourne or Singapore, we can be Perth, and that’s okay.”

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