07/11/2012 - 07:29

New perspectives on the city

07/11/2012 - 07:29

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Projects like Perth Arena and Elizabeth Quay dominate debate over the city’s development but an innovative event held last weekend showcased a lot more.

New perspectives on the city
SURPRISES: The city is full of hidden gems and refl ections of Perth’s past, even among the iconic offi ce towers. Photo: Annaliese Frank

Projects like Perth Arena and Elizabeth Quay dominate debate over the city’s development but an innovative event held last weekend showcased a lot more.

A PHOTOGRAPHIC exhibition in the lobby of Council House is providing a unique perspective on Perth, and encouraging people to think differently about the city.

It includes a selection of interesting personalities, photographed on the city’s streets. More thought provoking, however, are the photos of Perth’s buildings.

They include many of the city’s iconic office towers, such as Central Park, but for a change these buildings are not the main subject.

They are in the background, almost incidental details. The foreground comprises views that most of us have never seen.

They show the view from places like Perth’s railway station, and feature the rooftops of smaller, older buildings that are dwarfed by the modem towers.

It’s not all about a handful of office towers, though they obviously play a big part in defining our perceptions of the city.

The city is also about life at a street level, in the shops and cafes, and in the many mid-rise office buildings that most people work in and the public buildings people visit.

The residents of Perth had a great opportunity to get inside some of these buildings last weekend, when the city played host to ‘Open House Perth’.

The open house concept apparently started 20 years ago in London, with about 200 people participating in the first event.

It has grown in popularity since then and spread to cities including New York, Barcelona and Melbourne.

The event gave people who don’t work in the city an opportunity to see buildings like Gordon Stephenson House, still known to most of us as 140 William.

The guided tours included the restored heritage buildings at Brookfield Place, though it would have been more impressive and meaningful if more of the bars and restaurants in that precinct were actually open for business.

Hidden gems like the First Church of Christ, Scientist, an imposing structure at the very top of St Georges Terrace, were open to the public.

Innovative places like Spacecubed, a 550-square metre co-working space tucked in behind the lifts in the Reserve Bank building, showed what can be achieved with some creative thinking. Even the old bank vault has been put to good use.

A similar development is under way at Moana Chambers, a 100-year old building that most Perth people will have walked past many times on the Hay Street Mall without ever noticing.

The first floor will feature a shared workspace for up to 25 professionals, an art gallery inside a modem timber enclosure, and a cafe overlooking the mall.

This development was possible only because Moana Chambers has a lift; that helped it meet the strict rules governing disabled access.

Those same rules will condemn many other heritage buildings in the city to prolonged disuse and decay, including the upper floors of many other buildings on the mall.

More precisely, the issue lies in the strict application of those rules, with­out any flexibility to reflect the chal­lenges involved in reviving heritage buildings.

The Terrace Hotel, which opened for business this week opposite the QV. 1 Building, illustrates this chal­lenge.

Planned before the new disability access rules took effect, the project faced major hurdles, and increased costs, as a result.

Rather than simply being a muse­um piece closed off to the public, the hotel project has brought one of the city’s fine heritage buildings back to life.

All projects of this kind involve compromises; the pods that form the modem half of the Terrace Hotel, and the air-conditioning vents that cling to the outside of the building, are examples.

Compromising on disabled access would help many other heritage res­torations get under way.

Open House Perth was timed to coincide with the opening of another iconic building, Perth Arena, which illustrates another important point - beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The architectural merit of Perth Arena will be debated for many years, and that’s a great thing for a vibrant, living city.

• mark.beyer@wabn.com.au

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