Building today for tomorrow

Good architecture can help share our story with future generations                                   


Street Wise- Published in the West Australian November 16th, 2011

Author: Emma Williamson


Since Federation, WA has been tackling the issue of its identity and how this is represented through a built form.

As a mining State, our cities and towns have been formed, built up and, in some cases, closed as a result of the minerals that come out of the earth around us. Things happen fast when resource prices are high and there is often not time to consider the bigger question of “Who are we?” The boom of the late 19th century gave rise to fantastic buildings such as His Majesty’s Theatre, the Treasury Building and much of the superb west-end of Fremantle.

But we also have a legacy of demolishing important buildings during boom times only to see the rush slip away and the earth lay bare until the next upswing in the market. The metropolitan area is experiencing unprecedented growth on the back of our current mining boom and this will naturally translate into the need for more buildings. We must embrace this opportunity to continue the story of WA’s growth through its architecture. Rather than demolishing existing stock we should seek opportunities to create dense, layered and rich experiences. Good architecture from several periods can coexist and tell their stories in a way mock-historical architecture cannot. In Perth, this can be imagined additions to existing significant buildings. This is a chance to tell a story and embrace today as a part of the history of tomorrow.

In Fremantle, “tomorrow’s history”, realised through contemporary architecture and urban design, has the potential to re-make the city and re-affirm its position as WA’s second city. All architecture was contemporary once. It doesn’t have to be scary or weird.

The century-old question of “What should we build here now?” remains but the formation of design advisory committees set up by the cities of Perth, Fremantle and Vincent, to name a few, will ensure that buildings can be elevated from meeting basic criteria to really contributing to a positive experience of the built environment.

Good architecture can do this and the public should demand it. In the North West, good architecture has the capacity to shift FIFO towns from transient mining camps to sustainable communities. WA is diverse and culturally rich.

We need to tell our stories. We need to create buildings that will tell these stories in a way that our children and grandchildren will find meaningful and want to protect.