Patient approach needed for delivery of bold projects

04/06/2009 - 00:00

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Has Perth missed its opportunity to deliver bold, city-making projects?

Patient approach needed for delivery of bold projects

THE cranes that punctuate the Perth skyline have come to symbolise the city's growth during one of Western Australia's most prosperous periods.

Now, as more than half a dozen new office towers and residential buildings rise up, the evolution of the city, and its skyline, is becoming one of the more visible legacies of the boom.

But with all booms comes bust. And now that the WA economy has entered a slowdown, many in the design community are left to lament what could have been.

Of particular concern is that the momentum that was starting to build on the development of so-called 'city-making' projects - those that would define the city and make it a more attractive place for residents and visitors, such as the Northbridge Link, and the Perth waterfront development - will be lost.

The state government's capital works program gives a clear indication of its priorities during this period of belt-tightening - schools, hospitals, and other social and cultural infrastructure projects.

Royal Australian Institute of Architects WA chapter president and Silver Thomas Hanley director, Rod Mollett, believes the boom was, in some ways, a lost opportunity.

"We didn't take the opportunity, in a large part, when we did have the chance; projects like The Link and the Perth waterfront development, and now we're going to find that it's a little bit harder now with the financial situation," he said.

"Now the government's making serious cuts to its capital works program and there's limited monies for significant projects. They'll happen, but it will be more long term.

"I think we could've benefited from a little more enthusiasm [from the previous government]. We had a lot of money sloshing around which we didn't use to our advantage."

But while key projects, such as the waterfront development, have been delayed, many believe they will eventually happen.

Similarly with the Northbridge Link; while the government has committed funding to the project, the credit crunch may delay private sector investment in the area until conditions improve.

HASSELL managing principal Andy Sharp said planning for such bold projects shouldn't cease.

"It's a snapshot in time, the focus has to change to different projects," he said.

"The cultural projects, the things that help define the city, won't go away. Planning can still occur.

"It's sensible to start planning now for bold projects. You can consider your options and design ideas and get it ready, so that when the economy does shift we're ready to move."

Mr Mollett said development around the foreshore should be more low-key and reflect the unique relationship Perth had with its river.

"I'd like to see it come closer to the river but in a low-key way. I don't think we need to cut the river into the Esplanade," he said.

"When you drive into the city from the airport, it has a unique look compared to other cities. Great Eastern Highway is appalling, but once you reach Burswood parklands and along Riverside Drive I don't think there's a city in Australia that has the look of it.

"It's quite unique the way the parklands and the city relate, there's a softness and ambience to it. I'd like to see that enhanced, not destroyed."

Cameron Chisholm Nicol director Greg Salter believes it will be up to the private sector to get projects like The Link and other masterplan developments, such as the Eastern Gateway - a mixed commercial and residential development near the Causeway - going.

"We've had zero per cent vacancy rates in the city, which is creeping up into 8-10 per cent now and into next year. That means there'll be unused demand within existing buildings," Mr Salter said.

"It's all very well and good to plan, but the economic realities mean it probably won't happen in the next three years or so, apart from the infrastructure.

"So the government might do the infrastructure for The Link but to get land sales and buildings up it will be very hard.

"[It's the ] same with the waterfront and eastern gateway projects, 8-10 per cent vacancy in the city will make it hard for a few things to get away."

But the professionals agree that the city has evolved markedly during the past decade.

As well as increasing the inner-city population, the boom also breathed new life into the city's commercial hub, sparking development not seen since the late 1980s and early 1990s, with each new development progressively building a unique identity for the city.

Bollig Design Group managing director Edwin Bollig believes the prosperity, in part, has allowed Perth to develop its own style, influenced by its distinctly casual, outdoors lifestyle.

"I hear a lot of people ask why Perth isn't like Melbourne. Perth isn't Melbourne, it's a completely different city and has a different lifestyle and people tend to forget that," he said.

"The city does have a unique ethos that needs to be explored and developed over time.

"We do suffer from a cultural cringe because we're not Melbourne or Sydney, which I think is sad."

"Perth does have its own style, architecturally cleaner lines, and a greater degree of sunlight also influences."

Mr Bollig believes that, until recently, the city had drawn heavily from an international style of architecture, with design also driven by commercial returns.

"We are conservative to a degree, but I don't think we're intellectually conservative, I think it's mainly driven by commercial conservatism," he said.

Now, during the downturn, Mr Bollig said architects had a responsibility to retain high-quality design while remaining mindful of certain commercial constraints.

"The danger is not the boom we had but what comes after. It happened in the early 1990s, you get a conservative reaction and everything gets cut to the bone and you just get rubbish. You get this alternative severe reaction in the opposite direction," he said.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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