Sep 19, 2011 - Development    10 Comments

A question of height?

One of the most frequent questions I am being asked while door knocking is what my position is on the development and height issue in Fremantle.

There is often a tension between new development, height and heritage in Fremantle – and there are no simple answers.  My position is:

  • No high rise
  • The unique character and heritage of Fremantle should be maintained and protected
  • Some quality medium density should be built in the underutilized parts of town (eg: the ‘East End’, CBD ‘Strategic Sites’ and the Knutsford Street Precinct)
  • Developers should not be given additional height – they should earn it
  • We should demand high quality developments with quality design features or sympathetic aesthetics plus good social and environmental outcomes
  • Densified areas should include generous quality public open space and green space
  • New developments should have good visual and acoustic privacy features for occupants and neighbours
  • Existing amenity should be respected

I think we should raise the bar on architecture in Fremantle – no more tilt up concrete allowed (for example) if I can help it!

I hope to encourage ‘landmark’ building design in appropriate locations; creating striking buildings that will be local assets and icons, and hopefully considered heritage worthy of protection one day.

I also think that if Johnston Court no longer dominated the skyline – if newer, better designed and constructed buildings stood alongside it – it has the potential to actually improve our city skyline (only if done well).

I saw some excellent examples of interesting, medium to high density developments in Portland Oregon, where quality materials were combined with interesting architecture and good proportion of public open and green space. The result was a really liveable neighborhood – something I thought would be ideal in Fremantle, particularly in the eastern end of the city.

My test would be – would I want to live there? Would I want to look at it every day?

The other balance that will need to be struck is the one between the financial viability of a development and the community’s expectations and aspirations.

It may not be an easy task, but I am keen to work towards innovative solutions for the long term benefit of the wider community and the good of the city I love.

Here are some photos of examples of medium density I liked in Portland, Oregon. I hope this provides some clarity.




  • “I also think that if Johnston Court no longer dominated the skyline – if newer, better designed and constructed buildings stood alongside it – it has the potential to actually improve our city skyline”

    I really like the creative thinking behind this idea – it’s the first time I’ve heard this argued. Really, it’s the only possible solution to buildings like this.

  • You’re saying we should surround Johnson Court by numerous buildings of at least 9 storey buildings so we don’t see Johnson Court. In my opinion, that would create numerous other problems, no matter how good the modern architecture was. Many of us also consider 9 storeys to be highrise. A simpler answer is to pull Johnson Court down, although I am not advocating that solution either. I think we have to live with the mistakes of the past. They serve as a reminder of how we can stuff things up.
    Rachel. I agree with a lot of what you have said. However, it may be worth your while stating what you consider to be highrise.

    • Hi Llyod,
      I think high rise is over 9 stories.
      But I would be particularly cautious about for anything over 4 or 5 stories.
      I also feel that the maximum height should not neccessarily be reached over the entire footprint of the building envelope. As well as set backs, there should be feature high sections and some lower sections, so as to avoid the monolith look.
      I did not say we should surround Johnston Court with buildings over 9 stories. I said that we might end up distracting from it with something (or things) much better in the vicinity.

  • Height alone is not the problem, it is the bulk, the footprint. We need buildings of different heights and that is going to be the challenge. When developers know they can get up to nine storeys on the Woolstores and other sites, why would the want to build 5 storeys next to a nine storey building, but that is the variety needed to create less bulk.

    We also need set backs at street level, so the footprints appear smaller. It is all about the visual impact and the entire streetscape, not individual buildings only.

    Roel Loopers

    • Good point Roel – I agree. I will add some photos of what I saw (and liked) in Portland that achieved this – however they had somewhat higher buildings that what I think we’d want or end up with in Freo.

  • Mixed used buildings (especiallly if they are talller) are key for me for producing a livable environment.

    Think the center of Paris, 5 and 6 story buildings, the ground floor is shops opening onto the street, then a story or two of non-store front business then a few floors of aptartments.

    People live, work and shop on every street. Layered usage ftw 🙂

    • I want a “like” button – thanks Mo!

  • Rachael – Perfect. I contacted you today re development and was directed to this website. Delighted to hear you are pro sensible development. My favourite Cities all have high density living and more money for the council to put in to parks, transport, art projects etc.
    I will be following your blog and I thank you for your passion and vision. We have also been discussing Portland in terms of viability and style. Let’s get this job done.

    • Thanks Bella!

  • Thanks for your email, Rachel. The above buildings look quite nice in the photos but they look the same as the horrors currently ruining large parts of Aberdeen and Glasgow, cities whose unique architectural character is being subsumed by newbuilds. These buildings look quite lovely in the design stage but look terrible in practice and very often quickly show the poor quality of the the materials used and the workmanship. Within a few years they look very shoddy and show weather damage. Five storeys is too high. I know, I have lived in such places. Aside from “taking out the sky”, so to speak, the shadows caused by such buildings make one’s home cold and bleak. This is a potential problem even in WA (at least in winter)!